Pubdate: Sun, 29 Mar 2015
Source: Mail on Sunday, The (UK)
Copyright: 2015 Associated Newspapers Ltd.
Authors: Kirsten Johnson and Kate Foster
Page: 47


Fury as drugs activists get free airtime for election

PRO-DRUGS campaigners in Scotland are to be given a prime-time slot on
television to call for the legalisation of cannabis.

A radical new political party has been set up with the sole purpose of
making drugs laws more lenient.

Funded by an internet millionaire, CISTA - short for Cannabis Is Safer
Than Alcohol - is fielding candidates across the country in the
General Election. It will be able to exploit electoral rules to air
its controversial ideas, which include giving cannabis to sick children.

Broadcasting regulator Ofcom confirmed last night that CISTA will be
allowed to promote its message with a party election broadcast in
Scotland if it contests at least a sixth of constituencies (ten).

CISTA is currently fielding six candidates north of the Border -
including an SNP defector who says she is fed up 'having to use drug
dealers' and the founders of the Glasgow and Edinburgh Cannabis Social

But the party expects it will have ten candidates by the start of next
month, making it automatically eligible for a three-minute broadcast
on STV and BBC Scotland. It will have to pay production costs, but the
film will be aired free.

Last night, anti-drugs charities called for CISTA's broadcast to be
banned. Christine Duncan, chief executive of Scottish Families
Affected by Alcohol and Drugs, said 'As more and more research is
released on the long-term impact of cannabis, it is very troubling to
find this group being offered airtime.'

CISTA founder Paul Birch, who made his fortune when he sold the social
networking website Bebo he had created with his brother Michael, is
calling for a Royal Commission to reform UK drug laws.

The party is also pushing the economic argument for legalisation,
claiming it could net the Government ?900 million a year.

A self-confessed cannabis 'consumer', Mr Birch - who is standing in
London's Hackney South and Shoreditch - is understood to have invested
around ?100,000 of his own cash in the project.

He said: 'It's really hard to die from cannabis. It's not true that
it's a dangerous substance. It's very safe compared to alcohol or

'Feathers need to be ruffled. Drugs law has not been amended in 30
years and there are no coherent arguments for maintaining the status
quo. I don't think people think of it as criminal.

'They are aware people are acquiring cannabis from an illegal grey/
black market and it's not ideal.

'The fact that cannabis has a recreational purpose as well as a
medical one means it is not prescribed medicinally in the UK. Our
party is focused on the recreational side and the medical side is a
closely associated topic. The worst element is the medical patients
who are not getting it because of the war on drugs.'

Mr Birch, who believes recreational cannabis should be available to
over-18s and medicinal cannabis to all ages, admits CISTA does not
expect to win any seats - but seeks to 'influence' others.

He is hopeful the party will have a significant impact on the Scottish
parliament election next year. He said: 'Based on past performance of
single-issue parties, we can't be expected realistically to win a seat
- - but we will have the most progressive manifesto of any party, so
when other parties come to write their manifestos' drug policies they
will look at what we've done.

'We are really excited about the Scottish parliament election next
year because Scotland has a fair degree of autonomy and there are
areas of drug policy where Scotland has the right to do something
different from the rest of UK - and hopefully we can potentially make
some of that happen. We also have a chance of getting someone elected
with that system, as there is a history of other parties having
achieved this.'

Mr Birch added that CISTA would not be fielding candidates in any
constituencies with incumbent Green or Lib Dem MPs, because both
parties have 'progressive' views on drugs.
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MAP posted-by: Matt