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Thursday, September 30, 1999 Published at 19:29 GMT 20:29 UK

MS cannabis user attacks 'bigoted' Straw

Jack Straw made his keynote conference speech on Thursday

A disabled Labour supporter who smokes cannabis to ease his condition condemned Home Secretary Jack Straw's refusal to legalise the drug for medicinal purposes.

Wheelchair-bound Andrew Coldwell, who suffers from Multiple Sclerosis, glaucoma and arthritis of the spine, accused Mr Straw of being "bigoted and a hypocrite" for his stance.

He was speaking to reporters after his wife Di, 66, addressed the Labour Party conference in Bournemouth and spoke of her belief that the drug should be legalised for the sick and disabled.

[ image: The home secretary's son, William Straw, received a police caution after selling cannabis to a reporter in 1997]
The home secretary's son, William Straw, received a police caution after selling cannabis to a reporter in 1997
Mr Coldwell, 52, said he smoked roll-up joints in the privacy of his home in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, to alleviate painful involuntary muscle spasms and a lack of bladder and bowel control.

Cannabis co-op

He said the relief the drug gave had inspired him to help found the Medical Marijuana Co-operative, which gets its cannabis from a "reputable grower", supplies 56 members and has a waiting list of 100 further patients.

The retired engineer said he resented the fact he and other disabled or terminally ill people sometimes had to resort to trawling the streets for suppliers of cannabis.

"I take cannabis purely for medicinal reasons because it is a relaxant. There is no curative value," Mr Coldwell said.

"It replaces a lot of the prescribed drugs I used to take, including steroids which caused me to be hospitalised for a week because I suffered adverse reactions, including hallucinations and hyperventilation.

"I think cannabis should be legalised for therapeutic use only and I cannot understand why Mr Straw won't do that."

'Narrow-minded, blinkered and bigoted'

"He is narrow-minded, blinkered, bigoted and a hypocrite. As a socialist, I condemn him for not showing compassion.

"I'm a member of a compassionate party and I am disgusted with Mr Straw's stance on the position of therapeutic cannabis."

[ image: Medicinal reasons are no defence in law against posession of cannabis]
Medicinal reasons are no defence in law against posession of cannabis
Speaking earlier in the conference debate on crime and justice, Colne Valley delegate Mrs Coldwell urged a change in the law for one group of people who were being "forced to turn to crime".

She said these were the "thousands of sick people and people with disabilities who have discovered that cannabis is the best and only way of controlling their pain".

Mrs Coldwell, a retired teacher, did not reveal her husband's condition, but told delegates about the case of a friend who was cleared by a jury of supplying the drug for medicinal reasons.

Mr Coldwell later said he was a responsible citizen and would never be involved in supplying drugs to youngsters.

He added all members of the co-op had to obtain a doctor's letter stating they were taking cannabis, their condition was being monitored and they had tried other conventional drugs which had had little or no effect.

The couple, who have been married for 12 years, are urging people to back Newport West MP Paul Flynn's campaign to allow cannabis to be used for medicinal purposes.

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