On January 1st 2019, the HQ for Bristol Cannabis Club opened its doors to members for the first time. After a busy Christmas period saw a core team of six volunteers turn an empty concrete space into a functioning member’s headquarters, those who were already part of our community finally gained access to a safe, social space to consume. That space has undergone many changes since, not least with the recent developments of an accompanying therapy room, and the beginnings of a kitchen. A vast array of people has assisted along the way, ranging from graffiti artists to electricians, all donating their time and expertise for free. Bristol Cannabis Club is a non-profit organisation, meaning any surplus of cash is fed directly back into the club, and the club’s community. We have a lot of ideas on how to bring the Bristol and wider UK cannabis communities together in a peaceful protest against the segregation and stigmatisation of medicinal and recreational use.
A Community Space
The HQ is a work in progress. A perpetually evolving beauty, but in a permanent state of flux as it wrestles with the essentially compassionate nature of its existence, in constant and violent opposition to the brutish, strangling grip of the Law. Staff work to regulate the market to the best of their abilities in an unregulated and criminal world, providing advice and information when possible, and directing to more thorough resources if necessary. A pack of club-specific resources is being developed, alongside affordable access to product testing kits. Staff are vigilant and firm with their expectations of members, and this has been reflected in the evolution of a close-knit community which will stop at nothing to protect itself from within. Our recent fifth birthday party secured Bristol Cannabis Club’s part in the cultural and spiritual rebellion which is so typical to and endorsed by this city, and members, supporters and likeminded souls travelled from as far as Spain to gather together in celebration, and solidarity. A celebration of our achievements so far, whilst acknowledging that mothers are still criminals for caring for their children, and innocent people’s lives are still ruined forever by jail sentences for possession. We returned a much smaller group to the HQ building for an afterparty, and were privileged to share our space with activists as important to the cannabis movement as Lee Harris, founder of Europe’s first headshop in Portobello Road, London, and Callie Blackwell, who shot into the public eye after saving her son’s life with cannabis oil. This was the first time that members of the wider cannabis community had been invited into the HQ space, and it did not disappoint. We realised then that what we have here is that thing which so many people in Britain are missing, and more importantly, that we are doing it well.
A Creative Space
If you have been lucky enough to live in a country where cannabis is not criminalised, or where its therapeutic and recreational use are at least not persecuted, then you understand. You know what it is to return to the green and pleasant lands of Beautiful England, only to be forced back into the shadows for indulging in a practice enjoyed by human beings for millennia. It’s a special thing, for a stoner to first experience cannabis without The Fear. For a chronic pain sufferer to be able to purchase their medicine without risking involvement in or exposure to organised crime, harder drugs and gang culture. Oh, to go to a bar and buy a drink, then sit down and skin up to enjoy it. To be able to watch the football with friends, somewhere that isn’t the front room, and share a joint at half time without risking a criminal record. Clubs in Catalonia are beginning to take part in town and city festivals, their premises offered as venues for celebrations of music and the arts, their members involved in various creative community projects and events. The stigma of consuming cannabis is slowly being eroded. These clubs provide creative avenues for their members, they facilitate conversation and activism and community action, they inspire debate and investigation and experimentation, they stimulate discussion on science, on politics, on the arts. Of course, long have drugs and the arts led their confusingly spectacular dance of luxury, lust and liberation, but under decriminalisation these routes are allowed to flourish, under the guidance and protection of experienced and educated professionals. Bristol Cannabis Club have plans to host art battles, graffiti workshops, open mic nights and spoken word poetry performances. We invite our members to decorate our walls and furniture with their creations, and we offer space to sell members’ creative produce. We want to open our doors to the creativity and wisdom that has for so many years been stifled and abused by The War On Drugs, and restore our members’ faith that there is an audience for their thoughts.
A Therapeutic Space
Nobody at Bristol Cannabis Club believes that addiction is something to be desired. Addiction is and always will be a terrible and terrifying mental health condition for all of those affected by it. Cannabis has been found to relieve the symptoms of heroin withdrawal, and many ex-addicts place cannabis, and its anxiety and pain-relieving qualities when used appropriately, as the sole reason that they got out of their addiction at all. Government studies across the world have suggested further research be conducted into cannabis’ relationship with treating Opioid Use Disorder, which is a prevalent problem across the world, and Bristol Cannabis Club itself is a proud home to several recovering and recovered addicts. The HQ offers an open forum for members to share their experiences with each other, engaging in natural talking therapies which, when structured by the NHS, cost the UK tax payer hundreds of thousands of pounds every year. Bristol Cannabis Club offers this to members for their entrance fee alone, and as our footfall increases we would hope to reduce even that. With our volunteers’ recent work to get the therapy room ready for use, we are now able to offer a space for reiki healers, masseuses, aromatherapists and anyone else who wants to share their therapeutic healing knowledge and abilities. Bristol Cannabis Club are a diverse group of people, ranging from school teachers to lawyers, from retired plumbers to construction site supervisors. We are people who, until January this year, were actively funding organised criminal gangs in our desperate search for a therapy which should be readily available. We are people who cannot fit neatly into any sort of box, who without the HQ were on an endless search for somewhere to feel comfortable, to be accepted, and to be able to consume without vicious attacks on our personal liberty. We are disabled users who consume to reduce pain and fatigue, but we are also university students, who want the safest available option to consume recreationally. We don’t want to cause problems – quite the opposite. We just want to exist, in peace.
A Social Space
The social aspect of cannabis consumption is as important to us as its medicinal and therapeutic aspects. This is not a conversation about vice – if it was, then society would not allow people to consume alcohol on balcony bars at four o’clock in the afternoon. Yet, we do allow balcony bars. In spite of the dangers of alcohol, in spite of the societal ramifications of a nation’s traditional recreation being based solely on the excessive consumption of a substance known to significantly reduce inhibition. We allow it. Our government allows it. A substance which destroys the human body at a far more troublesome rate than, say, the regular consumption of cannabis infused edibles. And if it is the smoking which is so terrible, then why are we allowed to smoke tobacco? Why has tobacco been protected by successive UK governments for decades, but cannabis prohibited? No. The criminalisation of cannabis is not about vice. And we’ve got too much information now, for it to be about dangers. It’s too useful in every sector of modern life, for it to be about market, or audience. There’s nothing left – the continued criminalisation of cannabis is no more than the UK government marginalising an entire section of society for no reason other than to divide. This is about social segregation. It’s about rich politicians being able to get away with admitting to snorting cocaine several times in their adult lives, but seventeen year old boys growing up in juvenile delinquent centres for the very same thing. It’s about parents who have access to money and publicity being granted access to lifesaving drugs for their children, but parents who are less financially capable and connected being forced to bury their babies. It’s about the isolation of some of society’s most vulnerable people, as they desperately seek a way out of their pain, their anxieties, or their social exclusion. With the birth of Bristol Cannabis Club’s HQ, we usher in an experimental new world, starting in Bristol but with the intention of spreading across England and Great Britain. A world where people are not quarantined from culture, life experience and personal progression simply because they consume cannabis, but one where instead, we invite that cultural exploration to take place alongside cannabis consumption. Where we accept that for some people, the two go hand in hand, and that it would be abhorrently wrong to ever try and break that bond.
A Dining Space
The first of many community events based in the building, last night our members’ HQ was host to Bristol Cannabis Club’s pilot Curry Night. We invited members of the South West cannabis community to dine with us, and discuss moving forward with our dreams. The evening was a success, and we will be continuing with this approach of inviting focussed, purposeful conversation between activists and supporters within our HQ walls. We want to foster a culture of acceptance and support within the club, of openness and respect, and most importantly, of progress. We are bored of hiding behind aerosol deodorants and chewing gum, and we want to be able to produce our own product, which we can quality assure, and regulate. We want to talk to politicians and police officers. We want to tell them how we can reduce the problems faced on the streets every day by millions of British citizens, and we want to show them how in some ways, we already are. We do not want to be criminalised for helping people, and we do not want to risk our full time jobs for the sake of the most vulnerable people in Bristol. But we will, and with a fire in our bellies that only a Bristol takeaway curry could give us, we are ready to start talking without our hands in front of our mouths.
A Revolutionary Space
Our guests did not disappoint last night, and members listened with sparks flying from their eyes as Phil Monk spoke about WTU’s intentions on taking the government to court, and as others reiterated what we have all been feeling for so long. The time is Now. We agreed to share case studies with each other, illustrating the benefits that regulation and education will bring to the UK, and have offered the anonymous results of our members’ survey to contribute to the case that WTU are building. We will keep adding to our events timetable, and we will build our pressure on local officials to bring adult conversation on decriminalisation to the table. Our active membership has more than doubled since opening the HQ building, and footfall is steadily increasing as more and more people realise there is somewhere for them to relax away from home. We were present in Castle Park for 420 this year, we observed the distinct lack of police presence, and we thank the local councillors and police force for not bothering us. But we are greedy. If we can be allowed to populate a public park en masse for several hours, then we want to be allowed to operate without fear of prosecution. We want to extend our operation, and help more people. We have a petition, and we want you to sign it. We’re asking for Bristol to pilot a move to decriminalise the possession and sale of cannabis on regulated premises, following the Spanish model but open to positive improvement.
If you are above the age of 18 and a current cannabis consumer then all you need to do is find a current member of the club and ask them to refer you to the club. Membership costs £10 per year, and gives you access to private events, special offers, and of course the new HQ. You’ll need the name of your referral and some photo identification to sign up, and you can do so with your referral friend, or at one of our public events.
- Members pay £3 entry each time they visit the HQ, which helps to cover the building’s total costs, which amount to over £1000 per month.
- There are weekly and monthly discounted entries available.
- Members gain access to various benefits, and non-members are not allowed in the HQ at all unless they arrive with a referral, ten pounds, and photo identification to sign up.
- So far, we have had MPs and candidates from Bristol’s Green, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties say they support what we are doing, and we have councillors on our members list.