Carlisle Court acquitted an MS patient today of cultivating cannabis, following the Crown Prosecution Service’s decision not to offer evidence in court on a public interest basis.
Lezley Gibson, 55, along with her husband Mark Gibson, were acquitted by Carlisle Crown Court of possession and cultivation of cannabis and not guilty verdicts were entered by the judge on the court record.
The case had been looming over the couple since January 2019 and at a court hearing in December 2019 the CPS decided to send the case to trial in January 2020. The defence submitted that the Gibsons had no option but to cultivate cannabis in their home to manage Lezley’s MS as she was unable to access an NHS prescription, while the cost of a private prescription was prohibitive. The Gibsons were acquitted today with the Crown offering no evidence and deciding it was not in the public interest to prosecute as Lezley once again has a private prescription for medicinal cannabis, bought at full cost.
There is evidence of a postcode lottery across the country in patient prosecutions for growing cannabis for medical use. At a recent parliamentary meeting organised by MPs, patients gave powerful testimony of living in fear of ‘the knock on the door from police’ and possible prosecution for illegally accessing the cannabis that has transformed their health and quality of life.
The Gibsons’ home was raided in January 2019 with Carlisle Police confiscating 10 baby cannabis plants and three homemade cannabis chocolate bars. While across the country many Police Forces have moved away from a heavy-handed approach to patients growing for medical reasons, Carlisle CPS decided to prosecute. The court case has taken a heavy toll on the Gibsons, with Lezley developing a sarcoma and receiving treatment to remove cancerous cells in November.
Lezley was represented by leading human rights solicitor Tayab Ali, of ITN Solicitors, and counsel Tom Wainwright of Garden Court Chambers. The defence team intended to argue at trial that Lezley was forced to break the law in order to alleviate the symptoms of her Multiple Sclerosis, fibromyalgia and hidradentis suppurativa. It was to be argued that this would be what any person in her situation could reasonably have been expected to do.
Today’s acquittal does not set a precedent which can be relied on by others in court and it remains an offence for people to use cannabis to treat their illnesses. Whilst Lezley’s case does not alter the current law, the case highlights that it is not in the public interest to prosecute patients who have no option but to use medicinal cannabis to treat themselves. Lezley’s legal team intends to ask the Director of Public Prosecutions to review their prosecution policy where people are found to be using cannabis to treat illnesses.
CEO of the Conservative Drug Policy Reform Group, Rob Wilson, said: “We supported Lezley’s case from the outset because her prosecution highlighted a very significant injustice. Like so many of the 1.4 million people in the UK who seek medical relief from cannabis, here was someone who wanted to be supplied with a legal medicine on the NHS but could not get it and could not afford the cost of a private prescription. Anyone in need of the medical cannabis would probably have taken similar steps to stay well but the law in this area has become messy and a postcode lottery. The DPP and CPS need to work with the Government to look at this in detail and take action so that safe and easy legal access to medical cannabis is available for patients. While today's acquittal does not set a legal precedent, it certainly demonstrates the pain and distress inflicted on families by the legal system and the NHS's failure to respond to legalisation of medical cannabis."
Lezley Gibson said: “I’m pleased to be acquitted today but this case has been hanging over me for a year and the medicine that kept me well was taken by Police. I don’t want other patients to suffer the same. I hope the CPS will see sense and stop prosecuting patients.”
Lezley’s solicitor Tayab Ali said: “It can’t be right to prosecute a person who has no choice other than to use medicinal cannabis to alleviate serious symptoms of a condition such as Multiple Sclerosis. I cannot see a situation where it would be in the public interest to prosecute a person in such circumstances. As it remains a criminal offence to cultivate cannabis for medical use, the law needs to be reviewed so that the we no longer put seriously ill people through the humiliation and trauma of a police raid, arrest and prosecution only for the prosecution to be later halted because it is, so obviously, not in the public interest to continue it. The law clearly needs to change.”
Notes to Editors:
Lezley’s crowdfunder received an outpouring of support from the British public, with over 400 donations which raised over £10,000 with many donations from patients.
Medical cannabis has been legal in the UK for over a year and NICE Guidance published on 11 November 2019 approving Sativex for the NHS, a cannabis-based medicine for the treatment of MS spasticity. Yet thousands of patients remain unable to access cannabis medicines through legal routes.
The APPG Drug Policy Reform meeting called ‘Forced to Break the Law: How should police respond to medical cannabis users?’ took place on 29 October 2019, with several MPs in attendance. Five patients gave testimony to their lack of access to legal cannabis-based medicines, and their fear of criminalisation for accessing medical cannabis illegally.
The CDPRG carried out polling with YouGov in June 2019 which found just 17% of the British public support patients being prosecuted for accessing cannabis illegally for medical use.
The CDPRG’s briefing on Changes on Policing Attitudes to Drugs in the UK found evidence of a postcode lottery in the policing of drug offences across the UK, including regarding individuals using cannabis for medical reasons. Eight Police Forces in England and Wales (20%) are currently implementing or developing drug diversion schemes which avoid criminalising drug offences.
Carly’s Amnesty is a scheme to grant amnesty for people suffering from serious health conditions to grow their own cannabis for medicinal use, set up by campaigner and patient Carly Barton. The scheme has received statements of support from five Police and Crime Commissioners in England and Wales, as well as members of the Police Foundation and Police Federation.
Available for interviews and comment:
Tayab Ali of ITN Solicitors can be contacted for interview and comment on Tali@itnsolicitors.com
Lezley Gibson can be contacted for interview and comment on firstname.lastname@example.org
Hannah Slater, Senior Communications Manager at the Conservative Drug Policy Reform Group
Hannah.email@example.com +44 7572 239957