Lezley Gibson, who has MS, and Mark, her husband, were arrested in February 2005 when police visited their home in Alston, Cumbria and confiscated a quantity of cannabis and equipment for smelting chocolate. A full five months later, Marcus Davies, who ran the THC4MS web site and administered its PO Box, was arrested at his home near Huntingdon. In August, 2005, the three defendants were eventually charged with conspiracy to supply cannabis during 2004, until February 2005.
The THC4MS 3 estimate that, over the years since the launch of their web site in 2000, they sent more than 36,000 bars of their CannaBiz chocolate to over 1800 bona-fide MS sufferers. Yet they deny having conspired to break the law. THC4MS scrupulously insisted that their clients must prove their medical need for cannabis before they could be supplied with CannaBiz, by supplying a letter of recommendation from their doctors.
Over the years, THC4MS has received hundreds of direct referrals from medical professionals who have read about it in the press. The publication of an article by David Rowan in the Daily Telegraph Magazine on 22.02.03, for instance, prompted an avalanche of applications. Not one of the THC4MS 3 has any medical qualifications and yet they have been of more practical assistance to MS patients in the UK than the NHS.
In May 2005, the Court of Appeal ruled on half a dozen cannabis cases in which it had been argued that the accused were entitled to a defence of 'necessity' because the drug was needed for medicinal purposes. Cannabis was more effective than prescribed drugs and did not have their associated side-effects. The three-judge panel under Lord Justice Mance ruled that this claim was not proved and that medical necessity could no longer be a valid defence in cannabis trials.
Throughout the period specified in the charges against them, THC4MS operated in the conviction that they were fulfilling a vital medicinal need by supplying an effective medicine to seriously ill people, for which there was no legal alternative. Sativex, a cannabis-based medicine developed by GW Pharmaceuticals, a British company, remains unlicensed in Britain, although it can be prescribed in Canada. As such, for the past year, Sativex has been available in the UK as an unlicensed medicine and Lezley Gibson has been receiving a supply.
Its motto, 'from nature, out of necessity', THC4MS has always been clear about its mission to supply MS sufferers with cannabis chocolate. Without cannabis, people with MS suffer pain that's like having barbed wire dragged up and down their spine. Without cannabis, people with MS can't walk, can't feed themselves properly, and depend more and more upon carers. With cannabis, they regain some of the quality of life that the rest of us take for granted. Not only does cannabis alleviate the symptoms of MS, in Lezley Gibson's experience, it also appears to retard the development of the disease.
For nearly two years now, the people behind THC4MS have been slowly dragged through the courts for something that they felt morally justified and legally entitled to do - and which they did, quite openly, for five years - but for which they are now being told that they have no defence in Law. Next week at Carlisle Crown Court THC4MS will invite the jury to find them Not Guilty of breaking the Law in their conspiracy to fulfil MS sufferers' right to effective medicine.
• THC4MS is a British medicinal cannabis co-operative based in Cumbria which dispenses cannabis chocolate bars free of charge to Multiple Sclerosis sufferers upon receipt of a doctors' note confirming diagnosis of MS.
• THC4MS worked as a first point of contact for MS sufferers who wished to use cannabis as a medicine, but who had no access to it.
• CannaBiz chocolate is named in memory of Biz Ivol, a MS sufferer from Orkney who developed the recipe and who died in September 2004.
• The THC4MS website includes hi-res. logo/graphics at http://www.thc4ms.org.uk/press.php