Pubdate: Mon, 12 Jan 2004
Source: Argus, The (UK)
Copyright: 2004 Newsquest Media Group
Author: Huw Borland
Cited: Legalise Cannabis Alliance


CHRIS Baldwin, who stood as a candidate for East Worthing and Shoreham in 
the 2001 general election, has been a passionate campaigner for the 
legalisation of cannabis.  His efforts led to the opening of a Dutch-style 
coffee shop, selling herbal marijuana and cannabis resin. He gave the Argus 
an exclusive interview before he was jailed on Friday for drug 
offences.  HUW BORLAND reports.

The legalisation of cannabis has been debated by medical researchers and 
politicians for decades.

Pro-cannabis campaigners insist it can give effective relief for a range of 
physical and mental conditions with minimal side effects.

Opponents argue that smoking cannabis can lead to stronger, more addictive 
drugs and have a damaging effect on the psyche.

Chris Baldwin, of Carnegie Close, Worthing, had been using marijuana for 
about 30 years when he won 920 votes for the Legalise Cannabis Alliance 
(LCA) in the 2001 General Election.

Baldwin, 53, suffers from spastic paraplegia, uses crutches, and says using 
cannabis helped to combat debilitating leg spasms.

To further promote cannabis being legalised, especially for medical 
reasons, Baldwin took a step which would spur a series of police raids, 
spark threats from drug dealers and put him in prison for six months.

He leased a property in Rowlands Road, Worthing, and opened a Dutch-style 
coffee shop called the Quantum Leaf in the summer of 2002.

Set behind a pot smoking paraphernalia store called Bongchuffa, the cafe 
sold 13 types of marijuana, hash cakes and ready-rolled joints, as well as 
sandwiches and soft drinks.

Baldwin said: "I'd been to Holland but opening a cannabis cafe here in 
Britain was pure fantasy.

"Then I got invited to do a five-day course to teach you how to manage a 
coffee shop.

"The LCA had nothing to do with it. A coffee shop owner called Nol Van 
Schaik paid for the course because he thought cannabis should not be illegal.

"I'd written hundreds of letters to the Home Office went to every 
pro-cannabis rally, march and meeting and lobbied Parliament.

I felt a coffee shop was at the sharp end of the political campaign."

Baldwin's cafe was first raided by police on November 27, 2002 just a few 
weeks after it opened.

An estimated UKP 2000 worth of cannabis and more than UKP 4000 in cash was 
seized by officers.  After the raid, customer numbers doubled and some 
residents complained of the queues of people waiting for the cafe to open.

Chief Inspector Russ Whitfield, police commander for Worthing district, 
said cannabis cafes were earning thousands of pounds every week and were 
devoid of any political stance.

Baldwin opened another coffee shop called Buddy's in Broughton Road, East 
Worthing, and concerned homeowners demanded a police crackdown.

Baldwin said:" I'd say the response to the cafes was mostly pretty good.

"Some people felt uncomfortable but that was more due to a lack of 

"Once we were taking up so much of police resources, we could not be 
justified and so we had to close.  Police were pressing charges.

"I'm aware from the support I have that jailing me could make me a martyr.

"I did not set out to achieve martyrdom.  I don't see myself that way but 
putting me away will naturally create one."

During the five-month period the cafes were open, drug dealers in Worthing 
were losing customers and their violent threats forced Baldwin to enlist 
doormen for the cafes.

They enforced strict policies of no under 18's, no alcohol and no hard drugs.

Baldwin said: "The threats scared me.  That was the first time I had 
thoughts of giving it up.  People were going to get hurt.  We got burgled 
on three occasions."

He denied the cafes made thousands of pounds in profits.  Instead, much of 
the money drained away as a result of giving free drugs to disability 
sufferers, running homeless charity events, police seizures and stashes of 
cannabis regularly being "ripped off" by volunteers.

He said: "If I started again I'd be a little more boss-like.  But it was a 
family thing I created.  The whole thing was a community project."

Former Metropolitan police Detective Chief Superintendent Edward Ellison 
had met Baldwin at LCA marches and spoke as a character witness for him 
during his trial.

He said: "I would trust him (Baldwin) with looking after my children but if 
I wanted to look after a business, I'd probably go to my children first."

On Friday Baldwin was jailed for six months for allowing cannabis to be 
used at a property, cannabis possession with intent to supply and 
possession of cannabis.

Judge John Sessions said his sentence was reduced because of the 
forthcoming reclassification of marijuana.

On January 29, it will become a class C drug, which means possession of 
cannabis will no longer be an arrestable offence.

Maximum penalties for Baldwin's crimes will be reduced from 14 years to 
five years.

Baldwin said: "To the voters of East Worthing, I will be back for the next 
election unless I die and my colleague Sarah Chalk will be standing for the 
West Worthing seat - we'll be covering the whole of Worthing."

After Baldwin was jailed, tearful cannabis campaigner Ms Chalk spoke of her 

She said: "Chris has helped so many people and he's repaid by being sent to 
prison.  I think it is an absolute disgrace.

"It goes to show how the law of this country desperately, desperately, 
desperately needs changing."
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