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17/06/2007 00:00:00

Ireland: I'd rather be arrested than give up my dope


PAUL Downey lights up another joint, takes a long drag and then vows:
"l'd rather go to jail rather than give up cannabis."

Disabled Paul, 37, has been warned he faces prison but said he needs the
drug to keep pain and depression at bay.

Fives years ago Paul had a job he loved with Michelin Tyres, a partner
and a young son, Aiden, but now his life is completely and utterly changed.

Today he lives alone, can't walk unaided, has limited use of his arms
and his speech is impaired after a horrific road accident.

"Marijuana is my medicine. It is what gets me through my days and I say,
without a shadow of doubt, if I couldn't get any I would take my own life.

"Marijuana keeps me from tipping over the edge. It keeps pain down and
it keeps me from plunging into anxiety and depression. Its my calming
medicine," he said.

Paul, from Ballymena, Co. Antrim, had just arrived in Tennerife for a
fun hol five years ago, when he fell asleep at the wheel of his hire car.

Recalling the tragedy, he said: "I woke up in hospital, having been in a
coma for two months.

"It was the start of a long spell of recuperation and the beginning of a
different life for me.

"I stayed in hospital in Tenerife for a few months and was then
transferred to a brain injury unit in the Royal Victoria Hospital in
Dundee, Scotland. I was there for six months.

"When I got out, the hard work began. I had to try to rehabilitate
myself. Getting used to a life with much less mobility than I had was
very difficult.

"I couldn't go back to my job and readjusting to this new me was awful
but I worked hard.

"My partner couldn't cope with my being disabled, so eventually we split
up and I moved back to Ireland because I needed to be near family who
could help me. My mum lives nearby and she is brilliant. I couldn't
manage without her."

Paul was learning to cope with his new life back in Ballymena when he
suffered a terrible setback.

He said: "Two years ago, I was crossing a road on my mobility scooter at
a zebra crossing when I was hit by a car.

"I wasn't badly injured but my scooter was wrecked and it totally
undermined my confidence and shattered my nerves. "It was a real setback
for me.

"After that I became anxious and irritable and suffered bouts of
depression. I found the only thing that helped me was cannabis.

"I have been to my GP and I tried an antidepressant she prescribed but
it doesn't work for me.

"The only medicine that helps me is marijuana. It calms me and take the
edge off any pain.

"I used to smoke dope when I was younger but I grew out of it, like a
lot of people and I didn't smoke for years.

"Its not that I have been using marijuana all my life and I'm now using
the accident as an excuse.

I only began smoking again when I realised I wasn't coping after the

"Its my life saver and I believe that whole heartedly."

But just two weks ago, Paul was in court after being arrested for
smoking cannabis in a shopping centre and received a two month jail
sentence, suspended for two years.

The Judge warned him any further breaches would result in his going
straight to prison.

Paul said: "I don't want to go to jail. I have never been in trouble but
suddenly now I'm a criminal because I smoke a little marijuana to help
me cope with my disability.

"As far as I am concerned, there is no victim and no crime. I was upset
to be in court but I won't quit smoking marijuana.

"To me this is a human rights issue and if they send me to jail I will
go on hunger strike.

"The law needs to be changed so that people like me can legally grow
their own marijuana for their own needs. I won't be hurting anyone else
or have to buy it off the streets.

"At the moment it costs me quite a bit of money to buy, but I need it.

"Its something the new devolved government in Northern Ireland should
think about, changing the law on this. There are many people like me who
could grow their own supply and they would be hurting no-one."

Paul talks to like-minded people on the Humanitarian Medical
Distribution website, which was set up to help the ill get cannabis.

Stuart Wyatt, who established the network, said: "The Humedi network is
an expanding de-centralised network of sick people, helpers and cannabis
growers who believe in one thing, and one thing only - that those with a
genuine chronic medicinal need, should be allowed access to clean and
safe medication.

"The government and the NHS have abandoned thousands of people to a
lifetime of misery and pain - in total violation of human, moral and
ethical rights. Why should medicinal users be denied such a drug?

"History has proven that cannabis is not a demonic drug. Scientific
research, both old and new, has proven the miraculous medicinal benefits
of cannabis."

Paul said: "I can talk to people on the chat rooms and I would like to
see the network expanded in Northern Ireland.

"Like all those people, all I want is safe access to a legal supply of
marijuana. I don't want to live in fear of the PSNI stopping me the next
time I light up a joint becaue then I'll end up spending two months in jail.

"Like I said, I don't want to go to jail but I won't give up my marijuana."


In THE NORTH, cannabis is a Class C drug. It is still a controlled drug.
Possession, production and supply of cannabis is still illegal.

The maximum penalty for supply, dealing, production and trafficking is
14 years imprisonment.

It is unlikely that adults caught in possession of cannabis will be
arrested. Most offences of possession result in a warning and
confiscation of the drug. But some instances may lead to arrest and
possible caution or prosecution, including: repeat offending; smoking in
a public place; instances where public order is threatened or possession
of cannabis in the vicinity of premises used by children.

In THE SOUTH, cannabis is a class B drug. It is illegal to possess
cannabis but it isn't an instantly arrestable offence.

Anyone stopped with a small amount, obviously for personal use, will
have the drug confiscated, be searched and asked for ID.

Those with a small amount and proper ID will be allowed to go but may
recieve a summons.

Posession of a large amount of cannabis or an inability to provide
proper ID at the time of questioning could result in an arrest.


THE organisation Drugscope, using information from the UK's National
Addiction Centre warns that cannabis is not a harm-free drug.

It states: "The primary health problems associated with the drug are the
possibility of respiratory disorders."

Cannabis use may also exacerbate existing mental health problems.

There is evidence that large doses of THC (the active ingredient) can
produce an acute psychosis marked by confusion, amnesia, delusions,
hallucinations and anxiety. Such reactions are rare and occur usually
after heavy cannabis use, or, after acute cannabis use by vulnerable

Author: Ireland: Sunday Mirror via UKCIA

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