End Of A Desperate Legal Battle?

Discussion in 'Marijuana News' started by weedboss, Jul 4, 2003.

  1. 'Okey dokey. Night-night." These were the last words Elizabeth "Biz" Ivol , the Orkney multiple sclerosis sufferer and famed manufacturer of cannabis chocolates, spoke to me on Tuesday evening, as we finished arranging for me to interview her the next day at her home in Herston, South Ronaldsay. Facing charges of cultivating, possessing and supplying cannabis, she sounded tired: all hell was going to break loose at her cottage next day, she reckoned, as the media descended, following the reconvening of her trial in Kirkwall for what she and her many supporters argue was simply helping alleviate the pain of other MS sufferers.

    Then there was that certain other matter: following the conclusion of that trial, as she had publicly promised, Biz Ivol would take her own life, painkillers washed down with Champagne being one suggested method. She had already taken delivery of an environmentally friendly cardboard coffin.

    By the time my flight touched down at an overcast Kirkwall around one o' clock on Wednesday, however, things had changed dramatically. The Crown had dropped the case on medical grounds - a case which many feel should never have reached the courts in the first place - and Biz Ivol had been rushed, unconscious, to hospital at Kirkwall that morning, suffering from a suspected drug overdose. The case for and against decriminalising cannabis for medicinal purposes was being hotly debated on Radio Scotland as I drove down the long, straight Churchill Barriers that link the islands of Burray and South Ronaldsay with the Orkney mainland.

    Approved medicinal use of cannabis may not be so far away. G W Pharmaceuticals has recently completed advanced clinical trials into the development of a medicinal form of the drug, and the findings have been submitted to the Medicines and Health Care Products Regulatory Agency ( MHRA ). Some of Ivol's sympathisers believe that it has been her case and her high-profile campaigning which has spurred on such research.

    All of this, however, is academic for Ivol was concerned, as she lies, reportedly in a stable condition, in Kirkwall's Balfour hospital.

    Meanwhile, at Craig Flower Cottage, her home in the South Ronaldsay hamlet of Herston, there was a police car in the drive. A young constable, on duty "to secure the premises", was giving nothing away. "Not known," was the reply to my inquiry as to what had happened to Ivol, except that she was in hospital.

    The aptly named cottage, its lushly planted garden overlooking the ruffled green waters of Widewall Bay, should have been an island idyll. Instead, it seems to have turned into a living hell for Ivol, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 12 years ago. She started smoking cannabis to alleviate the pain - legal alternatives tended to have side-effects, she said - and came up with the idea of cannabis-laced Belgian chocolates, which she christened Canna-choc and distributed to other MS sufferers, particularly those who didn't smoke.

    Her condition had worsened over the past two years - something her supporters blame on stress brought about after she was arrested and charged in 2001 following a police raid on her home. She was deemed unfit to appear at Wednesday morning's hearing, held amid the modernist sprawl of Kirkwall's Pickaquoy Sports Centre, rather than in the Sheriff Court building itself, because of easier wheelchair access. Even if she had not been hospitalised, her worsening condition would have prevented her from appearing, as her solicitor reported to the court.

    Yesterday Ivol's supporters were preparing to catch the ferry back to the mainland. 'Maybe we'll re-christen the chocolates Canna- Biz,' mutters Gibson, by way of a parting shot'

    The 55-year old wheelchair-bound campaigner had become a cause celebre, but she expressed her disappointment on hearing Tuesday night's news that, on medical grounds, the Crown was going to abandon the case, which she had hoped might ultimately end up in the European Court of Human Rights.

    And, she told a radio interviewer on Wednesday morning, she still planned to commit suicide as a final protest: "I'll get stoned first," she said. "I hope to just slip away. I'm tired. Someone else can carry on."

    Saintly resolve, terminal irresponsibility or simply the sheer desperation of a very sick woman tormented by pains she likened to "somebody pulling barbed wire through my spine"?

    The three subdued-looking members of the Legalise Cannabis Alliance, who had driven hundreds of miles to be with Ivol on the morning of her trial, had no doubt where their sympathies lay. Devastated that, to all appearances at least, she seemed to have attempted to fulfil her grim promise, Mark Gibson from Cumbria described himself as incensed: "It should never have been brought to court in the first place, but to drop it at this stage and to deny her a victory in the court of law was disgusting. Her crime has been to help people who were even more ill than herself."

    Gibson and fellow campaigners Chris Baldwin and Clara O'Donnell were sitting in the lounge of the Kirkwall Hotel, having just returned from giving statements at Kirkwall Police Station. They had arrived off the ferry from Aberdeen at 1:30 on Wednesday morning and, not wanting to disturb Ivol, had camped in her garden at Craig Flower, as arranged. When they surfaced, they tried phoning her on a mobile and got no reply, then saw neighbours entering the house: "Then the ambulance arrived and took her away."

    Gibson, 39, and several times busted for cannabis-related offences, has no scruples about saying it was he who supplied Ivol with the cannabis to put in her famous chocolates. "It's nothing I haven't said before," he says, grinning.

    Along with Ivol, Gibson, whose wife suffers from multiple sclerosis, is a founder-member of Therapeutic Help from Cannabis for MS Sufferers ( THC4MS ), which has helped distribute the Canna-chocs. No money changed hands, he insists, apart from the odd donation to cover stamps and packaging. "It operates purely on Biz's ethos, which was that it should be given only to MS sufferers who could provide a valid doctor's note or similar statement. No proof, no chocolate."

    Baldwin, a lean, grizzled man of 53 who walks on crutches due to a spinal complaint he has suffered since childhood - and for which he takes cannabis, though he also uses it recreationally - has only been able to come to Orkney on terms of bail from a court down south. His companions refer to him knowingly as a "coffee-house entrepreneur": in fact over the past year he says he has opened two cannabis cafes in Worthing, one of which has since closed down. He has a court appearance on 24 November.

    Both he and Gibson stood as LCA candidates during the last Westminster elections; clearly they take their tokes seriously, although they insist that the big issue in Orkney was Biz Ivol, and the drug's medical use, rather than general decriminalisation. Like Gibson, Baldwin has known Ivol for several years - but none of them have actually met her; their contact has been through phone calls and internet exchanges, through the online fraternity - wired, you might say - of cannabis users.

    Baldwin had visited her in hospital earlier in the day - "I saw her for a couple of minutes but she wasn't in a fit state to recognise or speak to me." He believes her deterioration over the last two years meant that "her quality of life just disappeared, so it really was the desperation of a woman whose life no longer seemed worth living. ".

    In a guest house near the Pickaquoy Sports Centre, where the trial had been abandoned without the presence of its main protagonist, Don Barnard, press officer of the LCA, described the affair as "one of the biggest injustices I 've ever seen in my life", and added that he and the other campaigners were "very despondent at the outcome of the morning's proceedings and the abandonment of the case.

    "It's just passing the buck," he argued. And he pointed to a petition the LCA had established on its website in support of Ivol, which they say attracted more than 1,000 names, including Labour MPs, a conservative councillor, a clergyman and the celebrated drug smuggler turned author Howard Marks.

    Others sympathetic to her case have included Alistair Carmichael, Liberal Democrat MP for Orkney and Shetland, and the Scottish Socialist Party, which tabled a motion in the Scottish Parliament calling for support for Ivol.

    "That petition basically called upon the Home Office and the Scottish Executive and Justice Department to stop this case forthwith and to hold a full investigation as to why this happened." The Alliance had called on the politicians to "sign it or give us just reason for not doing so," added Barnard, an affably laid-back 62-year-old Keith Richards sound-alike, sporting a gold cannabis leaf medallion. He has never met Ivol either, "but the whole case has just touched me. Biz is one wonderful woman."

    So as Ivol lay in hospital, where she remained as this article went to press, Sheriff Colin Scott MacKenzie pronounced himself satisfied that it would be inappropriate for the case to continue, describing it as "a sad and unsatisfactory end" to a case which had attracted so much attention.

    On the question of the legality or decriminalisation of the drug, this, said Sheriff Mackenzie, was for the politicians, not the courts, to decide.

    Yesterday, the campaigners, Gibson, O'Donnell and Baldwin at least, were preparing to catch the ferry back to the mainland, although they were hoping to visit Ivol in hospital first. "Maybe we'll re-christen the chocolates Canna-Biz," muttered Gibson, by way of a parting shot.

    Although perhaps the last word should come from an MS sufferer, not the incapacitated Ivol, but a fellow-campaigner, Bill Reeve, who lives on the neighbouring island of Burray. Now requiring extensive care at home, Reeve is a former industrial engineer who was diagnosed with MS in 1983. "To put it simply," he stresses, "there is life after diagnosis, even after you start to lose your independence." By way of example, he points out that after diagnosis he went on to create what was then East Anglia's largest computer training company before he retired at 37, after which he became a careers counsellor.

    "Biz is at the stage I was at ten years ago, he says - that of losing your independence."

    Reeve believes that the battle regarding medicinal cannabis has already been won - it is expected to be available in spray form on prescription by the end of the year - but he further believes cannabis should be legalised, "now, so that it can be properly controlled, the same as alcohol and tobacco".

    He looks to Canada, which legalised medicinal cannabis and the cultivation of small amounts for personal use last year - "the same year that the US Supreme Court declared medicinal cannabis illegal. This shows the relative strengths of the drug companies in the two countries, and this is the real issue on both sides of the Atlantic."

    Meanwhile, a world away, back in Orkney, a controversial - and very costly - court case has expired to no-one's satisfaction, the campaign to legalise a classified drug, for medicinal use at least, has been well and truly aired . and the tired, tormented woman at the centre of it all says she no longer wants to live

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