Pubdate: Sat, 10 Mar 2007
Source: Independent  (UK)
Copyright: 2007 Independent Newspapers (UK) Ltd.
Author: Ian Herbert
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Patricia Tabram)


She's Just Been Busted For The Second Time, But Patricia Tabram's 
Unusual (And Illegal) Cottage Industry Goes On. Ian Herbert Joins Her 
In The Kitchen For A Masterclass In Class C Culinary Delights

There's a heavenly kind of abundance about Patricia Tabram's kitchen 
that should earn her a place in the Grandmothers' Hall of Fame. 
Chocolate cakes and cooking oils jostle for position on several 
chaotic work surfaces.

Bacon (smoked and unsmoked), plum pudding, heaps of cream cheese (for 
use in both cheesecake and omelettes) and kilogram slabs of Dairy 
Milk are packed into an chock-full fridge.

And there, half obscured - though certainly not hidden - to the left 
of the cooker, between the sea salt and the Bisto, is the magic 
ingredient that has just sealed her reputation as one of the nation's 
better-known pensioners.

The finely ground marijuana is kept in an old Bramwells pickle jar by 
the sink, and it looks almost interchangeable with the nearby jars of 
mixed herbs when Mrs Tabram reaches for it during a morning's 
initiation in the art of cooking with cannabis.

But Mrs Tabram's miserliness with the teaspoonful which she 
eventually scoops out from the jar suggests that her belief in the 
liberal use of cannabis does have its limits.

A quarter of the spoonful makes it to the mixing bowl from which she 
will assemble the ingredients for her unique "claggy" - a 
Northumbrian form of fudge brownie. "I've special scales to measure 
it," she says. "One small dose like this will give me five hours free of pain."

Mrs Tabram, 68, is the "Cannabis Granny" of Northumberland. From a 
two-bed council bungalow at Humshaugh, a small village near Hexham, 
she has resolutely continued over several years to cultivate cannabis 
and put it into the curries, cheesecakes and stews that she prepares 
to help her ailments and which some of her friends have also enjoyed.

This week she was warned that she may lose her housing association 
bungalow after she was convicted at Carlisle Crown Court of the 
cultivation and possession of a class C drug. Mrs Tabram, whose 
crusade has seen her write the rather unimaginatively named book 
Grandma Eats Cannabis, stand against the cabinet minister Peter Hain 
on a pro-cannabis ticket at the last election, and become a 
figurehead for the campaign to legalise cannabis, remains undaunted. 
"It's not going to stop me cooking with cannabis for one minute," she 
says. "The law and good justice just do not exist in this country any more."

Granny she might be, but this former chef is evidently as 
uncompromising in the kitchen as in the courtroom.

After she throws a pinch of cannabis into a bowl with a quantity of 
butter at the kitchen table, her student is ready to throw in a few 
sweet ingredients for the cannabis "claggy" we are making together. 
(The word is Geordie for "messy", which may well prove appropriate 
here.) But Mrs Tabram removes the cannabis mix. The weed, it 
transpires, is best cooked after 24 hours sitting in butter or fat, 
so this one is for another day. Instead, there is some she prepared 
earlier. It is sitting among five ready-made cannabis mixes placed 
into flowery teacups back in the fridge.

A few whirls of flour and a little mixture-beating later, and the 
cake is placed in the oven.

"The police have always known where to look," Mrs Tabram says, amid 
all the industry. "They'll ask me 'Is it in the hot chocolate Pat?' 
And of course, there it is every time." She opens the lid on a 
Cadbury's hot chocolate jar in which the green specks are also 
unmissable. (Eight heaped teaspoonfuls of chocolate to a level one of 
cannabis is apparently the ideal ratio for a satisfying beverage.) 
When Northumbria Police raided her home in October 2005, they also 
found four cannabis plants in a store cupboard.

Mrs Tabram showed them a further 20 tubs of pre-frozen cannabis stews 
and soups in the freezer, though she says they declined to take them 
because they did not want to deprive her of food. She was charged 
only six months after receiving another six-month jail sentence - 
suspended for two years - when convicted of possessing 31 plants and 
blocks of cannabis worth UKP850.

Despite the second conviction, Mrs Tabram's determination is 
becomingly an increasingly awkward problem for Northumbria Police. 
Her beliefs about the medicinal value of cannabis and its superiority 
to prescription drugs (which she says make many of the elderly ill), 
mean that only jail will stop her from her cultivations. Her first 
trial judge observed that this would only make her a martyr, an 
opportunity she is all too ready for. "Emmeline Pankhurst had to go 
to prison three times before women got the vote", she says, whisk in 
hand, "so I am not going to be worried about it."

Her actions have contributed to a strong pro-cannabis campaign here, 
where she is supported by Mark and Lezley Gibson, campaigners from 
neighbouring Cumbria, who were convicted last year of making and 
distributing cannabis-laced chocolate bars to multiple sclerosis 
sufferers. Mrs Tabram's own experience with cannabis began amid what 
she describes as a near-suicidal depression five years ago, a result 
of the death of her husband, David, from cancer, and pain suffered 
following two car crashes.

She had not appeared from her bungalow for days when two friends 
brought her out of her despair when she least expected, she says, by 
offering a cannabis spliff without telling her what she was smoking. 
Mrs Tabram was astonished by the effect.

A chef and former restaurant proprietor, she was soon seeking out 
cannabis recipes from a shop in Newcastle.

Her first effort, cannabis scrambled egg, left her violently sick 
after she applied a whole teaspoonful to the plate and suffered what 
users know as a "whitey" or blackout.

But soon she began cooking up cannabis chicken and leek pie and 
cannabis chocolate cheesecake. "I was in so much pain and the 
cannabis brought me back to life," says Mrs Tabram. Opponents of her 
point to the profound psychological effects cannabis can have. But 
Mrs Tabram also speaks of the contradictions in drug sentencing, in 
which the wealthy enjoy rehab while "the working classes" are seeking 
something that works, a life free from pain.

She wants to talk some more but the rich array of vegetables arranged 
near the cannabis pot are suddenly a distraction. Can carrots, 
cauliflower and cannabis really mix? Suddenly Mrs Tabram is offering 
a teaspoon over and I am ladling another small quantity of 
cannabis/cooking oil mix into a pan, for conversion into what can 
only be described as dope stir fry. The sequence is all-important for 
this one, it transpires. Fry the soya beans, sprouts and cabbage with 
our special green ingredient, then throw in the celery, mushroom and 
spring onions as well as chicken squares.

A touch of chilli oil at the end will make all the difference too, 
Mrs Tabram predicts.

But that will have to wait because the cake - literally a "claggy", 
messy, soggy and flecked with green spots - is ready.

Mrs Tabram also now offers some unwelcome news, which quashes a 
cherished hope that I would soon be eating some of "claggy". "To 
offer someone a slice of the cake means they can charge me with 
supply," she says. "I couldn't possibly do that." She then leaves the 
room for an unspecified reason - and it seems that the risk of her 
catching me in flagrante eating a slice which contains a whole 0.1g 
of cannabis, is probably worth taking.

I take a piece.

With one obvious difference, it is like any other self-respecting 
grandmother's fudge brownie.

"It will take two slices to alievate back pain for you," warns Mrs 
Tabram, back in the room and evidently tolerating my imposition. "A 
tall bloke like you wound need a whole 0.2g for five hours' pain relief."

It seems likely that she will also be tucking in for some time yet. 
Though the local Milecastle Housing Association will hold a meeting 
to decide whether to evict Mrs Tabram, she is quite prepared to turn 
such a decision into plenty more public embarrassment for the authorities.

"I've got a tent and a little camp cooker and I can sleep on the 
piece of grass outside," she says. "Let them see what it looks like 
to throw an overweight old granny like me out of their council bungalow. "
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom