Pubdate: Mon, 22 Dec 2003
Source: Liverpool Daily Post (UK)
Copyright: 2003 Liverpool Daily Post
Author: Mark Hookham
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - United Kingdom)


A LIVERPOOL culture chief last night admitted she smokes cannabis to help
battle crippling arthritis.

Coun Berni Turner told the Daily Post she takes the drug to help ease the
pain in her legs and hips.

The chair of two of Liverpool council's most influential select commit-tees
believes the drug should be legalised for medical use and said disabled
people are having to turn to drug dealers for pain relief.

Coun Turner, 40, who chairs the culture and tourism and the overview and
scrutiny committees, was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis four years ago.

Without strong anti-inflammatory drugs and painkillers she would be unable
to walk.

But Coun Turner, who has been an Old Swan councillor for eight years, told
the Daily Post she replaces pain-killers with cannabis because she is
worried about long-term side effects of her medication.

Her Diclofenac anti-inflammatory drugs can cause stomach and kidney damage
while her coproxamal pain-killers can lead to nausea.

She said: "I see no reason why cannabis should not be available for medical

"The painkillers are not pleasant. They make me feel sick and nauseous.

"Some of the drugs are opia derivatives and probably much more damaging than
taking cannabis.

"I am actually passionately anti-smoking but for me it is a last resort."

Coun Turner, who lives with her husband and fellow councillor Robbie Quinn
in Anfield, asks her friends to buy her cannabis.

She said: "It makes me feel awful - I do not want to be a criminal and I am
a very anti-crime councillor.

"I live in the Anfield ward and obviously see issues arising from the
illegal use of substances.

"I am not asking for the drug to be distributed to 12-year-olds on street
corners. This is only about the medical use of cannabis.

"There are other people far worse off than me. People with major disability
who are in a lot of pain who can not access this drug."

Coun Turner, who works for a city centre PR agency, says she hates "cannabis
culture" but she feels she has no alternative but to smoke pot.

She said: "I wouldn't know how to buy it and I certainly don't know how to
roll a cigarette.

"To use it regularly you need to become part of a subculture when all you
actually want is a medicine."

Coun Turner is hoping a new course of prescription drugs which she is due to
start next year may help relieve her pain.

Anti TNF drugs can dramatically improve the condition of arthritis
sufferers, but the drugs cost ?10,000 a year and Coun Turner was told she
must fail three other courses of treatment before they can be prescribed
for her.

She said: "It's been a long road but hopefully I will be prescribed anti TNF

"It's amazing that you have to go through so much pain before you finally
get what you need."

Fellow Lib Dem councillors last night supported Coun Turner's call for
prescription cannabis.

Council leader Mike Storey said: "I would be very much in favour of a
decriminalisation of cannabis for medical reasons and I find it bizarre that
it hasn't happened yet."

GP and executive member for social care and health Coun Jeremy Chowings
said: "I believe we should decriminalise it but I do not think we are at the
stage where we can ask family doctors to prescribe it."

But Labour leader Coun Joe Anderson accused Coun Turner of sending out the
wrong messages to young people in the city

He said: "I have a great deal of sympathy towards her condition and if she
finds some relief from breaking the law then that is her personal choice.

"But I do not think she should say that it's OK to do it. People will think
it is one rule for councillors and another for ordinary people.

"It just makes the job of the police particularly difficult."

Experts at the Roy Castle Lung Foundation last night warned of the dangers
of smoking cannabis.

Chris Owens, head of tobacco control, said: "Smoking cannabis with tobacco
is harmful to you help because it can lead to lung cancer, asthma, heart
disease and strokes. My message would simply be to not smoke it."

The chair of the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society, Ailsa Bosworth, said
she had never heard of an arthritis sufferer turning to cannabis.

She said: "I have had rheumatoid arthritis myself for 23 years and I would
not want to use it myself.

"If she is going to go on anti TNF treatment in the future then hopefully
she will not need cannabis."

A spokeswoman for Merseyside Police refused to say how the force would
handle cases such as Coun Turner's. Instead, she referred the Daily Post to
a statement made in November by the Association of Chief Police Officers.

The statement said: "From a policing perspective possession of cannabis will
remain a criminal offence, however the enforcement of that issue is guided
by ACPO enforcement guidelines in line with the Home Secretary's requirement
for the police to focus their efforts towards the more harmful drugs of
heroin, cocaine and crack cocaine."
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