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MS sufferer Thomas Yates was cleared of producing drugs. Thomas Yates, branded the prosecution a 'waste of time and money" arid said the time had come for Home Office ministers to legalise cannabis for medicinal use.

The 51-year-old, a former deep-sea diver originally from Luton, admitted growing the plant and smoking cannabis -but still denied the offence under the defence he did it out of "necessity". He said cannabis was the only drug that eased his pain without unpleasant side effects. Mr Yates said he was trying to grow a 10-year supply because his wife Andrea, 41, was dying of lung cancer and increasingly needed his time and support. Court accepted his argument he needed cannabis to ease his pain and cleared him. After the hearing Mr Yates, a father of two, said: "All this has been a waste of time and money. Law needs to be changed so that people can use cannabis for medicine purposes."

Sally Freeman, prosecuting, told the jury that necessity is not a defence to the production of an illegal drug. "Mr Yates is a very sick man and that no doubt will attract a lot of sympathy," she said. "Mr Yates will in due course, I anticipate, be saying he had no option but to do what he did. It is the Crown's case that is not a defence. We will argue that what Mr Yates did is against the law and if that if that law need to be changed it needs to be changed elsewhere."

He said he had been prescribed a variety of medications by doctors including morphine, sleeping tablets and anti-depression tablets. But they had accused severe side-effects, making him sick, constipated and unable to eat and sleep. Yates said he had read about the medicinal use of cannabis in an article in the Guardian newspaper and been advised to take it by fellow sufferers.

He had started to cultivate his own cannabis - against his wife's wishes about five years ago. "I tried cannabis and it got rid of all my pain within half an hour to an hour," he said. "The pain had all gone - 95 per cent of it anyway." He added: "My quality of life was 100 times better."

Without drugs he was in constant pain, suffered muscle spasms and had difficulty walking. He said cannabis "worked brilliantly", made him feel "euphoric" and able to cope. Yates, whose sister also has MS, said his doctors were aware he was taking cannabis.

Lindsay Gox, mitigating, told the jury in his closing speech, they should make the "common. sense decision". He said: "You bring common sense to the courts, and that is what I ask you to bring to this case today. I have no idea what your views are about cannabis, about people who use cannabis -and actually it doesn't matter. This is not a case about legalisation of cannabis. This is not a crusade to have cannabis made legal in the country. It is about a man who suffers from a crippling, debilitating, extremely painful disease, which won't get better, may well worsen, and may result in the shortening of his life. This is not a case about a man who grows cannabis because he wants to party with his friends to get high for recreational reasons. It is about a man who smokes cannabis and has grown cannabis because the other available medications don't have the desired effects. They carry side He is not doing it to make money. He is not hurting anybody. He is sitting in his home smoking cannabis to take pain away to give him. A degree of quality of life. It is a Catch 22 situation - damned if you do, damned if you don't"

The jury returned a unanimous not guilty verdict after an hour-and-a-half's deliberation.

Campaigners in favour of legalising cannabis said the case should never have been brought and the drug should now be made legal. Other groups urged caution; arguing cannabis was a drug that should not be considered lightly and which could lead to serious problems for users.

While the Government has given the go-ahead for research into the possible medical benefits of cannabis it is still at an early stage and wholesale legalisation is not on the agenda.

"The Home Office has given permission for trials to take place using cannabis as a medicinal product and work is currently under way on cannabis derivatives. We are at that stage at the moment," a health department spokesman said.

Thomas Yates' doctor feels it is time the Government stopped dragging its feet.

Dr William Nottcutt, a consultant in pain management at the James Paget Hospital in Gorlston said cannabis needs to be clinically tested as soon as possible. "We need to study the drug. If there is one message that comes out of this trial it should be to the bureaucrats in Whitehall to get their fingers out," he said. "Drugs have to go through long procedures before they can be licensed and a lot of paperwork needs to be done. The message is, get on with it so I and others who are waiting to do clinical tests can get on with it." Dr Nottcutt said Yates was not the only one of his patients using cannabis to ease the pain of multiple sclerosis. He added: "It (cannabis) is an effective way of managing pain for a lot of patients with multiple sclerosis and many other conditions. Many patients suffered so badly from the side effects of morphine that they would rather have the pain than take morphine. " Mr Notcutt is a leading authority on the medicinal use of cannabis and addressed a House of Lords committee on the subject two years ago.

Dr Nottcutt said the court's decision was unlikely to change too many minds as most interested parties were awaiting the results of the Government trials. "I do not think this decision will open the floodgates as there were very specific circumstances that were taken into consideration by the judge and jury and they were very tragic circumstances. But in the current climate and with the way we are moving regarding the use of cannabis, I hope it will not be long before cannabis is studied medically."

The doctor said Mr Yates was a "nice man" and he was delighted at the outcome of the trial. "I could not be happier for him. It has been a long and very distressing time for him," he said.

Jack Girling, of the Campaign to Legalise Cannabis International Association said Mr Yates' case should never have come to court: "Prosecuting an MS sufferer is diabolical and a total waste of taxpayers' money. At least once a week people contact us with MS desperate for an alternative to prescribed medication. The law shouldn't have the right to stop people using a natural plant how they wish. The medical properties in cannabis have been known about for so long now and should be legally recognised."

Ben Smith, an official from the UK Cannabis Internet Activists Group, said: "This is about the fifth trial that has ended up like this in recent months. The message must be getting through to the Crown Prosecution Service that it's just a waste of time and money. The law must be changed."

Bev Clydesdale, a welfare officer with the South Suffolk branch of the Multiple Sclerosis Society, added: "We don't want anyone to break the law. But the laws on cannabis need to be changed to allow people like Mr Yates to use it."

Clare Hodges, of Alliance for Cannabis Therapeutics. Sufferers from MS and has used cannabis to ease the pain of her illness for several years. "Doctors should be able to give letters to patients using cannabis for medicinal reasons, which would prevent them being prosecuted," she argued. "People like us should not be prosecuted. It's a waste of public money and utterly distressful for the people concerned. Cannabis has always been labelled a recreational drug but it has much more value than that."

But a spokeswoman for AdAction, a national drug and alcohol treatment service, urged caution over cannabis. "Cannabis as a drug should be taken seriously and it can create real problems for users," she said. " We would be misinforming the public if we were to give the impression it is a drug with no problems attached." But the spokeswoman said AdAction did not believe prosecution was always the answer. "We deal mostly with the sharp end of drugs and can say that for. Some people criminalising them is just not appropriate."

A spokesman for Suffolk police said he could not comment on the individual case. But he did say: "While cannabis is illegal we will continue to enforce the law."



The case of Mr Yates and his 40 cannabis plants raises the issue of trial by jury, and its threatened status under measures proposed by the Home Secretary Jack Straw.

In the case of Mr Yates the jury found the defendant not guilty of cultivation of cannabis although the facts were not in dispute, the trial judge describing his medicinally-motivated marijuana-growing as "potentially a case of necessity."

In finding Mr Yates not guilty the jury exercised its right to reach a conclusion in the face of the evidence - in effect, questioning the justice of the law itself. This right has been the prerogative of juries for centuries going back to the time of the Magna Carta, and is an essential element of our democracy.

Mr Straw seeks to deny the public this basic constitutional right, by abolishing the jury trial for some 'minor' offences including shoplifting and drugs offences - cases just like Mr Yates's.

Secondly: Ministers routinely say that their aim is to target the dealers of hard drugs rather than the users of soft drugs. The figures tell a rather different story. The lurking suspicion is that, in these times of Performance Indicators cannabis users (the very people who will be denied trial by jury) make a soft target.

BUT WHO, in the Criminal Prosecution service deemed it - in the public interest to prosecute this case and putting a very sick man (their words) and his wife who is dying of cancer through such a traumatic experience. Especially when there is case history for not proceeding.

Clearly there was no victim and no crime. The jury's verdict was another case of common sense prevailing - God bless you all.

Don Barnard, Braintree, Essex



A MULTIPLE sclerosis sufferer has called for cannabis to be available on the NHS to help ease the intolerable'' pain of thousands of people with the illness. The call comes only weeks after British scientists announced that a substance in the drug can help sufferers cope with the condition.

Barron Potts, 53, of Egremont Street, Gleinsford, was diagnosed with the condition in 1994 and is a self-confessed cannabis user. He says the drug is the only reliable way to ease his suffering without causing unpleasant side-effects and is the only way he can make his life bearable. He is furious after fellow sufferer Thomas Yates from Lowestoft, was prosecuted after he allegedly grew cannabis plants at his home to allow him a constant supply of the drug to help him cope with the condition.

Mr Potts says cannabis is the only thing that works with immediate effect and does not leave you feeling sick, drowsy or lethargic for days after taking it, like many of prescribed drugs. He said: "MS is an awful condition which affects around 100,000 people in Britain and I would say around 35% of those use cannabis. It is the only thing that works. The only way I can describe the constant pain is that it is like being in a vice that is closing. I also suffer from spasticity, spasms, my speech becomes affected and I get attacks of optic neuritis, which impairs my sight. I smoke one joint a night or take the drug in my coffee before I go to bed and within 15 minutes I feel my muscles start to relax, the spasms stop, it helps to control the spasticity. When I get attacks of optic neuritis it feels as if my eyeballs are about 15 times bigger than usual but after I have taken cannabis I can feel the swelling coming down. Cannabis gives me eight unbroken hours of constant and vital sleep."

Sources: East Anglian Daily Times (UK) : Teresa O'Boyle, Eastern Daily Press (UK) : Brian Farmer, Independent, The (UK) Brian Farmer, East Anglian Daily Times (UK) : Don Barnard

Note: Thomas Yates and his solicitors were not represented by IDMU.

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