More MS news articles for Aug 2001

Because the lady loves...

Aug 29, 2001
The Scotsman - United Kingdom

The winding three-mile single-track road skirts Widewall Bay and brings visitors past the lobster pots and the red pillar-box and the picturesque wrecked hull to a row of pretty houses with neat and colourful gardens.

In one of those houses sits a cheerful, wheelchair-bound woman in a red Prince's Trust sweatshirt and tartan trousers. A half-tame blackbird called Spot sits on the kitchen windowsill peering in with a sideways eye at Biz Ivol, who is busying herself among her correspondence.

On the front lawn, old Stroma, a bearded-cum-border collie, dozes lightly with his chin on his paws. And somewhere in the house is Willie, a cat Biz took in after it was badly injured in an accident.

The sun shines brightly and gentle waves lap the shore 20 yards from the front door of Craigflower Cottage. Welcome to the scene of the crime.

These unlikely surroundings in the village of Herston, South Ronaldsay, Orkney, were the focus of a police raid at 4:45pm on Monday, 6 August. The police were looking for chocolates. But not any old chocolates. For we have come to Bizzie's Bonkers Chocolate Factory.

Biz suffers from multiple sclerosis. It's painful and crippling. Only one thing eases the pain. But that one thing is illegal. It is cannabis, and Biz smokes it merrily enough, not hiding her enjoyment of the mild high that accompanies the easing of her physical distress.

Biz's friend, Bill, who lives in nearby Burray, also suffers MS. But he doesn't like smoking. So Biz made him cannabis chocolates. They worked a treat, which indeed they were, and Bill's pain eased. Biz began making more hash chocolates and sending them out to other sufferers, and soon her fame spread, which embarrassed the Orkney police. Hence the raid.

Biz, 53, and originally from Cornwall, recalls: "It was about quarter to five. Four of them came in, three policemen and one policewoman. They were very nice except for one who kept on at me about who took my mail to the post office and trying to get me to say who I gave cannabis to.

"They were here for about two hours and went through the whole house with a fine-tooth comb. They took my receipts and my address book, which is a blasted nuisance. They took away my computer, though I only used that once and it just produced gobbledegook. They took away the plants, though there were just three at the time."

She is annoyed at the raid, but not bitter at the police. "They had to do something. I've been a thorn in their side for long enough."

Cannabis has taken over Biz's life. Sometimes she wishes it would just go away. But she needs it, and believes many others do too. She has other interests - a framed photograph of Colin Firth as Heathcliff sits atop the fridge. But her cosy cottage is also decorated with slogan-bearing stickers and posters: "God made grass, man made alcohol, which do you trust?" "Don't walk on the grass, smoke it."

Biz is an unapologetic proselytiser for the herb. She is not against its recreational use and was previously involved in an attempt by the Legalise Cannabis Alliance to take the government to the European court.

In 1997, too, she was taken to court for growing 33 plants, "which was a lie - there were 40".

She was admonished, and also picked up tips. "During that first raid, a policeman said it was stupid to bother with the greenhouse and better just to grow it among the trees. He was right."

Her interest, however, is more medicinal than recreational or cultural. She wants to be high on health. She wants to be free from pain.

"I get the most horrific muscle spasms in my legs. My eyesight goes. I get a pain down my spine which sometimes feels like barbed wire is being pulled through it.

"When I have cannabis I seem to be able to function properly but when I don't have it I feel zombified. When I was growing my own I didn't know what to do. I used to chew the little tips and next thing I was glued to the ceiling for hours. I'm afraid to use it during the day because I get giggly and talk nonsense. When I'm making chocolate, I lick the spoon - I like that bit. But it's such a minimal dose in the chocolate."

Biz jokes about applying for a council grant to buy chocolate manufacturing equipment and a greenhouse.

Ask how people got to hear about her and she explains by referring to a highly effective communications interface: "My gob." She claims she was cut off during a recent BBC phone-in when advising a caller how to get the drug.

She has had inquiries from Finland, America and Canada. She sends out about three packages a week, recent recipients including MS sufferers in Switzerland and Ireland. The letter from Switzerland was accompanied by a doctor's prescription. Biz reckons 95 per cent of those who write have been recommended to do so by their doctors. She does not charge for her confectionery, though she does appreciate a stamped-addressed-envelope.

The neighbours have been fine. "They have been very supportive because they see the difference it makes to me," she says. When she used to grow the plants upstairs, one neighbour used to come and water them. And when there was a previous rumour about a raid, the plants were moved to another house. The local grocer is pleased because of all the cooking chocolate Biz buys. There's a delightful whiff of Weed Galore about the whole thing. Bill, her fellow sufferer in Burray, was anti-drugs in the beginning and didn't like smoking but he turned up at Craigflower Cottage one day, driven to desperation by terrible muscle spasms.

Biz gave him the chocolates and - despite one incident in which he thought the telegraph pole, now called Trevor, was bending over to speak to him - Bill has never looked back. Cannabis campaigners claim the weed can help with other conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, anorexia nervosa and glaucoma.

Says Biz: "I have a lovely old man. He's 74. He's had four operations for glaucoma. His doctor advised him to try cannabis. He contacted me and I sent him some cannabis chocolate.

"He took it the first time and the next morning his eyesight was back. That is how quickly it works with glaucoma. But he didn't like it because he got a bit high. He went on holiday last month to Devon. He had been there 15 years ago but hadn't seen any of it because of his glaucoma. But this time he saw it all."

Biz eventually found the right dosage for the old gentleman, but admits her recipes, which involve rubbing the cannabis into a powder, vary considerably. She still prefers to smoke hers, having one joint last thing at night, usually rolled for her by a neighbour. "The cigarettes I roll usually disintegrate and nearly set my vest on fire," she says, adding: "Sometimes I get utterly stoned because every time you use cannabis it's a different strength." This is something she feels could be rectified by legalisation.

eil Montgomery, consultant anthropologist to the UK Medicinal Cannabis Project and scientific adviser to the Medicinal Cannabis Research Foundation, backs this idea, claiming that not only does cannabis undoubtedly alleviate serious illnesses, it would also bring Pounds 2 billion a year into the Exchequer.

Montgomery says there's little evidence to back claims the herb could trigger paranoia or even schizophrenia, and claims any negative effect on the heart tends to be limited to minor disturbances in rhythm for some people.

He was horrified to hear of the raid on Biz's house. "Some of the behaviour of the police in that case - taking address books and so on - was disgusting. It is even more appalling that they did this knowing why she was using cannabis."

He concludes: "We should remove the punitive aspect of the law now and have some kind of independent commission to decide how to go about legalising it."

Biz and Bill have sent handwritten letters to every MSP. Not one Labour MSP replied. All the Liberal Democrats did, as did some from the SNP.

Tommy Sheridan, the Scottish Socialist, was particularly supportive. Alex Fergusson, a Tory, was strongly against legalisation. Jim Wallace, the justice minister and Lib Dem MSP for Orkney, backs legalisation for medicinal use.

Charles Kennedy, the Lib Dem leader, wrote saying: "The vast majority of experts agree with you and it is only the failure of successive governments to face up to the drugs debate that delays legislation."

In the meantime, the force of legislation faces Biz, though the procurator fiscal has not yet decided whether to prosecute. Biz hopes she will be prosecuted so that she can plead not guilty, citing the "law of medical necessity".

What if she is found guilty and later prosecuted again? Would she go to prison for her beliefs? "Have they got a prison hospital for women? Because I would have to be kept in one. They can't fine me anything because I haven't got any money. I give the stuff away and I'm skint. They can't give me a suspended sentence because what good would that do? I would just carry on what I have been doing. I don't know what they can do to us because there are so many of us.

"We are not the criminals. They are, for not legalising something that alleviates this bloody disease."

The police decline to comment on an individual case and maintain they are obliged to uphold the law, a position that brought a stinging riposte from a recent visitor to the islands who wrote to the Orcadain saying, if that were the case, why did they not pick up the brawling drunks hanging about the harbour?

"Cannabiz", meanwhile, has suspended her chocolate-making temporarily, and the operation has been taken over by a couple in Cumbria.

But, from her happy cottage in Herston, Biz will carry on campaigning. She says: "I can't give in. I want to. I just want to go to bed and forget about cannabis. But I can't. I did have a quiet life, but cannabis has just taken over now."

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