Wed 17 Jul 2002
John Ross and James Doherty
A WHEELCHAIR-bound cannabis campaigner has pledged to fight her prosecution of possessing and supplying cannabis, which she claims alleviates her crippling multiple sclerosis.
Biz Ivol, 54, from South Ronaldsay in Orkney, a long-time supporter of legalising cannabis for medicinal purposes, was due to appear in court yesterday following a police raid last August.
However, the case was continued without plea until 13 August when it was called at Kirkwall Sheriff Court.
The charges allege she was in possession of cannabis, produced two cannabis plants and was concerned in the supply of the drug to others.
In a recent television interview, Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, said that "people will take a sympathetic view" of Ms Ivolís position.
And last week, the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, relaxed the law on cannabis possession, downgrading the drug from Class B to Class C. The changes will come into force in July 2003.
However, Ms Ivol said that far from clarifying the law regarding the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes, Mr Blunkettís statement had further confused matters.
She said: "I donít honestly understand last weekís statement. It is as clear as mud.
"Every MS sufferer I have spoken to says that their doctors have told them to try it, so why canít the doctors speak out and help us."
Ms Ivol said that the supply charges brought against her relate to cannabis-laced chocolates which she has allegedly been making and distributing to fellow sufferers across the UK. If found guilty, she could face jail.
She claimed that yesterdayís continuation of the court case was little more than a delaying tactic.
Ms Ivol said she intends to plead not guilty and debate what she sees as the merits of cannabis use at a trial.
She said: "Itís been nearly a year to get this to court. I want to plead not guilty and use the law of necessity which people who use cannabis for medicinal purposes have used successfully."
The Legalise Cannabis Alliance is backing her stance. Don Barnard, a spokesman for the group, said yesterday: "I hope this stops immediately. I donít see the sense of putting Biz through all this stress. She should be given a medal not criminalised."
Campaigners claim cannabis use can alleviate some of the symptoms of MS, including pain in the joints and muscles.
Alistair Carmichael, the Liberal Democrat MP for Orkney and Shetland, said: "Biz and others like her are in an awful position as they tell me the only relief they get from the pain is by using cannabis.
"They are effectively self-medicating and as Biz has now found out, they are always liable to prosecution.
"If this goes to trial it will be an opportunity to raise awareness of the problem."
Earlier this month on the Question Time programme, in response to concerns raised by Mr Carmichael over Ms Ivolís prosecution, Mr Blair said: "We are looking at it urgently. We do understand there is a potential distinction between those that need it for medicinal purposes and those who don't."
A spokesman for the Home Office said: "Clinical trials of cannabis are licensed by the Home Office and are currently being conducted on the potential effectiveness of cannabis treating MS, spinal injuries and other intractable, painful conditions.
"Doctors should not prescribe cannabis until the quality and safety issues of any medicinal form have been scientifically established."
He added that any future prescribing of cannabis would be subject to the same stringent licensing procedures imposed on other new drugs. Doctors would then prescribe pills or an inhaler, rather than resin or grass.
Clinical trials are expected to be completed within the next year. But
the spokesman warned that until it is approved, dealers would now face
up to 14 years imprisonment.