Friday, 9 November 2007

Chris Baldwin

Chris Baldwin, born 1950, suffered from severe crippling injury as a child, has shown the courage of a lion in his fight about the repressive cannabis prohibition laws in the UK.

For many years Chris used cannabis to ease the spasms in his legs that his injury caused, get a better nights sleep and ease the pain. Although he felt the law against cannabis and the punishment of users was totally unjust, he, like most of us, did little about changing it.

Then Chris came across a Legalise Cannabis Alliance flier at a Howard Marks gig in his area and realised that he was not alone, there was a serious political party that he could work with.

In 2001, Chris represented the LCA in the General Election, contesting Worthing East and Shoreham and gaining a very impressive 920 votes (2.1%) .

Wanting to more to help the cause, in particular to bring attention to both the general injustice of the law that punishes victimless cannabis users AND interferes with the supply of a highly effective medicinal plant, Chris decided to open a cannabis cafe in his home town, Worthing.

At the front of the premises in Rowlands Road which he leased, Chris opened a shop selling cannabis paraphernalia and magazines, behind which and through a monitored door he opened one of the UK's first cannabis cafes. The shop was called 'Bonchuffa' and the cafe was 'The Quantum Leaf'.

Already there had been two attempts at opening public cannabis cafes in England. The first, 'The Dutch Experience', was opened in Stockport and led to the eventual imprisonment of Colin Davies for three years. The second was "Dutch Experience II' opened in Bournemouth for Jimmy Ward. Jimmy eventually received a suspended sentence.

Yet Chris, on his crutches and through his own pain, pushed on with his plans and made no secret of it, voluntarily going to the police to discuss his venture.

The cafe was so successful that Chris opened a second place, Buddies, on the other side of Worthing.

He also set up The Herb Connection, a source of cannabis for those in urgent medical need.

The story continues through a series of police raids on both cafes. Bongchuffa was closed after the landlord withdrew the lease. Buddies was "voluntarily" shut down after police continued their presence outside, harassing customers and searching them.

Below is a series of newspaper articles, followed by a Court Report of the sentencing of Chris Baldwin to SIX MONTHS of agony in prison. The judge's comments about Chris - his description of him as an "honest" and "sincere" man with a genuine medical need and belief in the use of cannabis in treating pain - a man who was politically motivated, not financially - a man who ran the cafes responsibly - and the judge's "reluctance" that in the interests of law he was forced to give an immediate custodial sentence, demands questions be asked about the obvious conflict between law and justice.

Who will stand up and point the accusing finger at CHRIS? Only those paid by the state to do so.

Here is a statement made by Chris just before his court appearance:

The Cannabis Café Guru (Chris Baldwin):

Pre Sentencing Interview Wednesday 7th January 2004

Chris Baldwin opened Worthing's first Cannabis Café in June 2002, he later acquired a second café, together they ran for over a year. His last cafe closed August? 2003.

Q: "Aims?"

CB: "The coffeeshop had three purposes;

"1: To push the political issue for legalisation.

"2: As a social experiment to prove that cannabis doesn't hurt society and there is a need for coffeeshops.

"3: To subsidise the medical supply to make medical cannabis affordable for patients."

Q: "What spurred the idea into action? "

CB: "Everything - I'd stood for parliament, written letters and articles, attended rallies, protests and meetings. We even went to Stockport to support the coffeeshop and got ourselves busted on purpose.

"The idea was finally spurred into action when I attended a 'coffeeshop course' in Holland. This was a five day course to teach people how to run a 'Dutch-style' coffeeshop. The course was set up and run by experts in the trade. "

Q: "Bongchuffa Headshop and Quantum Leaf Cannabis Café. Why the two names?"

CB: "Bongchuffa was the headshop. Quantum Leaf was the coffeeshop. I wanted to keep both entities separate. Bongchuffa didn't sell cannabis, only cannabis requisites which are completely legal.

"I thought if I kept them separate the law wouldn't be able to touch Bongchuffa. This didn't work, the Bongchuffa stock was all confiscated during a later raid. The police still have all my stock despite the fact that it's legal.

Q: "So the premises were intended as a political hub, was this with the support of the LCA?"

CB: "The LCA were not involved with the financing, setting up or the running of the coffeeshop but they were supportive of our political campaigning. We had LCA collection boxes on the counter so we donated money to them."

Q: "As a social experiment did the cannabis cafes work?"

CB: "Yes - In my opinion they did. Coffeeshops offer adults an alternative to alcohol, this can be valuable to recovering alcoholics.

"We also helped a couple of recovering heroin addicts to stay off the nasty stuff. We offered good quality cannabis instead of the rubbish that's often available.

"The popularity of the place proved there was a need for coffeeshops in Britain. "

Q: "When you say rubbish, what do you mean?"

CB: "Prohibition creates a situation where the product has no 'quality control', so as with alcohol prohibition in the 1920's in the USA. People are forced to buy and consume an inferior and sometimes dangerous product.

"In Britain the most common type of cannabis resin used is known as 'soapbar'. This is a type of hashish that has been adulterated with various nasty things, sometimes dangerous chemicals.

"This results in the ridiculous situation that a law created to protect people actually does them more harm than good.

Q: "These different varieties of cannabis, do they have different effects?"

CB: "Yes - We offered a variety of weeds and hashes.

"Some people like to smoke strong weed like 'Skunk', while others prefer something milder like 'Thai' or 'Swazi'. Some preferred hash to weed.

"Pub's offer a choice of drinks because that's what people want and the cannabis trade is no different."

Q:" So can different varieties help medical users in different ways?"

CB: "Yes, to a degree but it's more a case of some types of cannabis are better at dealing with pain and spasms."

Q: "How did you subsidise medical supply, what supply?"

CB:" We had been supplying medical cannabis about a year before the coffeeshop, our problem was the price.

"Cannabis is expensive and some patients just couldn't afford it so coffeeshop profits subsidised the medical supply.

"We actually sold medical cannabis for less than we paid for it, this was only possible with the coffeeshop continuing to run."

Q: "You attempted to set up a controlled environment with quality cannabis; did the criminal element of our society appreciate this?"

CB: "Some criminals like to smoke decent pot and some like to sell dodgy pot.

"We did receive threats from some 'soapbar' dealers but we were printing and giving away 'anti-soapbar' leaflets so I suppose we did annoy them a bit."

Q: "So you had threats from villains, you must've had pressure from the police as well?"

CB: "No, we had very little contact with the police in the beginning.

"Just after we opened two uniformed cops came in and had a look. There wasn't much going on at the time apart from Alan the artist was rolling a joint in the corner and a couple of bongs on a table so they went away, apparently happy."

Q: "You sound quite relaxed about it all now, but you were busted after 5 months, the pressure must have been intense?"

CB: "The pressure of not getting busted was massive.

"We opened day after day expecting the cops to turn up and bust us every day. When it finally happened it was quite a relief.

"It was what we fully expected to happen but we expected it sooner. What did the other shopkeepers and local inhabitants think, were you accused of lowering the neighborhood?

"Most of the other shopkeepers warmed to us straight away. We were polite, friendly and helpful but most of all we brought lots of people to the area and that meant more trade for them.

"Some didn't like us but we were doing something a bit radical, so there's bound to be some critics. As far as lowering the tone of the area, our shop was so beautifully painted that other shops started to get new coats of paint. I think we brightened up the area rather than lowering it."

Q: "What is the feeling amongst the founders of Quantum Leaf and Bongchuffa?"

CB: "Pride, we were all very proud of what we'd achieved.

"After a while the place was looking good and feeling good. It was working just the way we'd hoped."

Q: "Finally, would you do it again?"

CB: "Yes but not in the same way.

"We were a bit too open about what we were doing and I'm not sure society was ready for that sort of smack in the face.

"The smack in the face was totally intentional and necessary.

"Britain needs coffeeshops, I am convinced of that.

"Now it's just a matter of convincing the 'anti-cannabis' brigade.

"Attitudes to cannabis have changed massively in the last thirty years and this will continue. The 'anti-cannabis' brigade will one day go the same way as the dinosaurs.

"One thing I am certain of is that cannabis prohibition will one day be repealed."

Sam Sage

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