Good news from England reported internationally in early July appears to have been a bit too optimistic.
Government officials and pot people across the world were led to believe that England was reconstituting its marijuana laws to make them kinder and gentler. Canadian officials cited England’s “reforms” as an example of sensible pot policy liberalization. Pundits and potheads described proposals by British Home Secretary David Blunkett as “following the Dutch tolerance policy,” and “a big step toward legalization.”
But the devil is in the details.
Blunkett’s proposed new pot laws, which won’t go into effect until next September, 2003 at the earliest, reclassified cannabis possession into a more moderate legal category, but the new laws do not make possession legal-police can still arrest people for possessing any amount of cannabis, and cannabis users can still be sentenced to jail or prison.
Further, the UK’s new laws, if they are ever enacted, double the prison terms for growing and selling cannabis in most cases.
And in reality, Blunkett’s widely-hailed policy shift has meant little to the UK’s most dedicated marijuana activists. In Stockport, near Manchester, disabled marijuana user, advocate and provider Colin Davies languishes in prison awaiting trial.
Davies and Dutch marijuana magnate Nol Van Schaik, who owns and operates three highly-regarded pot coffee shops in Haarlem, Holland near Amsterdam, last September opened The Dutch Experience coffee shop in Stockport.
Stockport police gave prior approval to Davies’ publicly-announced venture, but busted the UK’s fledgling first official coffee shop on opening day, and have continued to conduct raids, harassment, and arrests ever since.
Davies was sent to prison without trial last December because he told judges that he believed providing marijuana was a righteous act of civil disobedience and that England needed to concentrate on real crimes instead of on arresting and prosecuting non-violent marijuana offenders.
Following international protests, Colin was released in May, but court-imposed conditions of release included a ban on communicating with his friends, including Van Schaik, and also stipulated that he not set foot in his Stockport home.
In early July, police again arrested Davies, this time because he allegedly violated bail conditions by visiting his home after a medical emergency. Although many people were present at the time of the arrest, police arrested only one person other than Davies. That person was Bart Meekel- an experienced Dutch coffee shop worker who visited Davies in the UK after meeting him in Haarlem.
Davies was manhandled in court, freed by a judge, and then re-arrested before he was able to exit the courthouse. He has been in prison ever since, and nobody knows when or if he will ever get out. He leaves behind two young sons, who are said to totally believe in their father’s activism but to also be distraught because of the pain foisted on him by local police, prosecutors and magistrates.
Meekel, the only person arrested other than Davies who was arrested when police raided Davies’ crowded flat, was remanded to custody, charged circumstantially with possession with intent to distribute. In almost all cases with similar charges, defendants are released on bail, but a judge sent Meekel to prison without trial, and the young Dutchman is still in prison, awaiting a trial that might not take place for nearly a year.
In the meantime, Stockport and Manchester police have moved aggressively to further attack Davies, his supporters and even his family.
Police have arrested dozens of protesters during ongoing battles with Colin’s supporters. In late July, police arrested Davies’ father, 71-year-old Colin Davies, Senior, for allegedly making false statements during testimony about his son’s whereabouts and medical condition. The elder Davies was at least not sent to prison, but is now facing two charges laid against him by the Crown Prosecution Service.
Across the English Channel in Haarlem, Nol Van Schaik is working to secure the release of Davies and Meekel.
Van Schaik’s partner, cannagoddess Maruska De Blauuw, visited Meekel in prison and also attempted to provide moral support to Davies and his family. Van Schaik has contacted the Dutch embassy in England, as well as international human rights organizations, contending that Davies and Meekel are political prisoners, and that Meekel is being held solely because of his nationality and because he was trying to help Davies. Van Schaik notes that only Dutch people and Davies were arrested on the opening day raid of The Dutch Experience in September, 2001.
“It’s a pure example of discrimination in Bart’s case,” says Van Schaik, who was himself arrested by Stockport police during activist actions, and in the middle of the night in his hotel room, last year. “Regarding Colin, I agree with what Colin’s mother said- the police and the court system are trying to kill him.”
Van Schaik says the UK’s treatment of “real activists” like Meekel and Davies shows the dishonesty of governments that “try to appear to be reasonable regarding cannabis, when actually their policies have not changed much at all.”
“It’s the same situation as in Belgium, which announced many months ago that growing and possessing cannabis would be legalized, and now even more than a year later, nothing has changed, except that maybe Belgium people can now smoke in the privacy of their own homes without much worry about the police,” he explained. “In the UK, the prisons are stuffed full, the government is supposed to have seen the error in its costly efforts to arrest and jail harmless marijuana people, and yet we have several constables employed full time using surveillance camera videos and other means to attack The Dutch Experience in a way that is vicious and racist. And, the UK has abruptly ended the Brixton marijuana tolerance experiment, and UK police are continuing to arrest and prosecute people for the most minor marijuana offenses. So much for Blunkett’s reforms.”
The Dutch Experience remains open in Stockport despite the arrest of its founder and many of its friends, and UK media regularly reports that other cannabis cafes, their would-be owners citing The Dutch Experience as inspiration, are soon to open across the British Isles.
Van Schaik is not impressed.
“Several million people smoke cannabis in England,” Van Schaik says, “but how many of them are willing to risk anything for the plant or for justice? Colin and Bart, and all the people who have stood with The Dutch Experience by being arrested and demanding jury trials, are the real heroes. They aren’t just hiding in their houses smoking a joint. They are out in front, exposing the corruption of the police and prosecutors, and showing the world that the British government is not sincere about creating a just, sensible and fair marijuana policy.” ——–Meekel and Davies would appreciate receiving letters of support, reading materials, and gifts while imprisoned. Here are their addresses:
Bart Meekel GT7775
Ongoing information about The Dutch Experience can be found at www.wwwshop.nl