Today, England’s relationship with cannabis is perplexing and passionate. Cannabis is illegal, and Prime Minister Tony Blair has proposed harsher pot laws. On the other hand, British industrialist Dr Geoffrey Guy is growing 20,000 pot plants at a secret Southern England location ? with government approval. Guy’s GW Pharmaceuticals uses the plants to conduct pioneering medical marijuana tests.
Welsh Member of Parliament Paul Flynn is forcing government officials to question cannabis prohibition, but British constables still arrest thousands of cannabis users every year, and herb shortages force many UK pot-people to smoke “soap,” a vile, adulterated, low-THC form of hashish. UK prices for potent sensimilla can be as high as $800 US per ounce.
Amidst this turmoil and confusion is a gritty Brit, whose commitment to cannabis and entheogens has put him on a collision course with the government.
Good morning, Mr Cannabis
He’s cute and compact, with buzzcut hair and a compellingly quiet, accented voice. He’s been on the front pages of Britain’s biggest newspapers, and on major European television and radio networks. People travel from around the world to visit his cannabis store, In Harmony With Nature, in the Southern England village of Glastonbury. Glastonbury is a New Age haven famous for its link to King Arthur, pagans, and the annual Glastonbury summer music festival, the biggest and most peaceful outdoor music festival in the world.
When police arrest or question him (which happens with alarming frequency), he presents his Euro driver’s license. The 32-year-old London-born civil engineer used to be named Rob Christopher, but his new legal name, right there on the Babylon-issued license, is “Free Rob Cannabis.”
“It’s fun in court to hear them call out ‘The Crown Versus Free Cannabis,'” Rob admits. “Some have tried to call me Christopher, but I insist that they call me Cannabis.”
Why did Christopher become Cannabis? After the death of his mother in 1991, and revelatory experiences with hallucinogens in 1994, he embarked on a cannabis crusade.
“I found out that the chemical drugs doctors had given my mother could have been replaced by cannabis,” Rob explained. “She would probably still be alive today if cannabis was legal medicine. LSD and DMT experiences also changed my life. They showed me that entheogens are gifts of nature that bring us closer to the good inside ourselves and others. They connected me to spirit energy, helped me see the interconnectedness of all things.
“Then I read Jack Herer’s book, and realized the cannabis plant’s ecological values. I examined England’s terrible Criminal Justice Act, which criminalizes alternative lifestyles, raves, peaceful protests. It even made it a crime to look like you were going to a rave. I lost all my fears, and knew I had to confront the government with its hypocrisy and injustice.”
Activism and confrontation
Confrontation initially took the form of education: Rob founded the Cannabis Hemp Information Club (CHIC) and a “Cannabis Museum” in London. He organized international CHIC conferences. While creating pro-pot displays, literature and demonstrations, Rob reeled in support from major cannabis activists, including Howard “Mr Nice” Marks, famed Welsh marijuana smuggler and author.
Marks and Cannabis organized marches, pot giveaways and police station protests in London and elsewhere. Rob later founded a “Free Medical Marijuana Foundation” that distributes marijuana to medically-qualified applicants.
“I told all relevant government agencies that I was distributing medical marijuana,” he said. “I told them that the National Health Service was criminal for giving out harmful chemical medicines instead of cannabis. They had my address; they knew what I was doing. A lot of them wished me good luck. A police chief inspector told me he himself smoked cannabis. I have never had any real problem with police. They are tired of having to arrest people for plants.”
In 1995, and again on a sunny summer day in 1996, Cannabis distributed free hash cakes to dozens of people at Speakers’ Corner in London’s famous Hyde Park. He then led 150 supporters to Marylebone police station with hashcake in hand, having already phoned ahead to make an appointment to be arrested for distributing cannabis.
“I told them I was handing out cannabis and should be arrested. Their response was ‘You have proved your point, now could you please leave the station?’ This proved that if you use or distribute cannabis openly, and refuse to accept it as a crime, you will probably have little problem with the police,” Cannabis said.
Other cheeky Cannabis protests included sending helium balloons laden with live pot seeds into UK airspace.
“The law says you can’t cultivate cannabis seeds, but you can have them, and you can plant them,”explained Rob, whose Glastonbury store carries a wide variety of Dutch seeds. “We hope the balloons went far and wide, burst at high altitude, spread the seed, and that mother nature watered them.”
After months of assertive activism, Cannabis was convicted in 1997 for having 1.5 grams of cannabis.
“I was ordered to pay a ?140 fine,” Rob said. “I told the court I would not pay, because to do so would be to support a corrupt system. I told them cannabis laws were illegal, and anybody who cooperated with them was helping to enable prohibition.”
The diminutive son of two school teachers was sentenced to seven days in prison for refusing to pay the fine.
“I went to prison in Bristol where we were locked in our cells 23 hours a day with only one hour outside the cell each day. I was surrounded by drug addicts. Most were on heroin or other hard drugs. There were huge queues of prisoners waiting for nurses to give them dangerous chemical-pharmaceutical drugs. That’s how the prisons kept control of people, by drugging them. I coined the phrase: ‘It’s not drug-free prisons, it’s free drug prisons.’
“In talking to prisoners, and during later study, I discovered that governments allow or assist in the importation and distribution of addictive drugs. Addiction-caused crimes destabilize society and scare the general populace so much that people demand tougher laws, suspension of civil liberties, more prisons and police. It’s all a clever scheme to take away our rights and establish a police state,” Rob said.
England’s Home Secretary, Jack Straw, is the rabid prohibitionist in charge of the country’s criminal justice system. Cannabis and other activists found it especially ironic that Straw’s teenage son William was sanctioned in early 1998 for selling cannabis to an undercover journalist.
While Rob was in prison, he wrote the elder Straw, challenging him to a televised cannabis debate. Straw never responded. Feeling ignored, Rob set up a pot plant display outside Straw’s Home Office in London in February, 1998.
“The constables were right there when I brought out the plant,” he recalls. “I demanded that Jack Straw come out and explain why this government had made a plant illegal. Why had I gone to prison for having a tiny amount of cannabis in simple possession when young Straw got only a caution for selling as much? ‘It’s not a drug, it’s a plant,’ I told them. ‘It’s producing oxygen for all of us. Prohibition violates international and European human rights laws. The laws are the crime.’ They arrested me.”
In court appearances in the Straw Plant trial, Cannabis dressed himself head to toe in cannabis hemp, and made fiery speeches against prohibition, even though the judge kept interrupting him. He filed a “counterplaint” against the government, alleging that his arrest was “malicious prosecution, violation of international law, a crime against humanity.”
During breaks, Rob made a point of showing reporters and court officials that he was eating live hempseed. His supporters organized sidewalk vigils and demonstrations, using music, street theater, pamphlets, and speeches to ridicule prosecution of their hero.
Inside the courtroom, the jury came back after four hours of deliberation and told the judge they were hopelessly deadlocked.
“The judge’s face puffed up like a big red balloon,” Cannabis recalls. “He said ‘May I remind you that your job is only to uphold the law, and I expect a verdict that reflects that!’ The jury got scared and came back with the verdict he’d demanded. The prosecution wanted ?700 in costs and fines. I told them I would not pay. The judge knew I was getting national media attention. He just wanted the trial over. I got a 12 month conditional discharge.”
In the summer of 1998, Rob hatched another plot against prohibition. He planted a huge garden in front of his High Street hemp shop. Inside of his store were beautiful crystals, hemp clothing, pipes, pot seeds, hemp candy, incense, books and music. Outside were daisies, mums, and 13 cannabis plants.
Village employees unknowingly watered pot plants while the town’s civic leaders scrutinized High Street shops eligible to win the coveted “Glastonbury In Bloom” floral display competition. Impressed by Rob’s storefront, they awarded him a major prize. After the awards ceremony, he told stunned officials that they had awarded Cannabis for cannabis.
“When he first told us, my initial thought was ‘Oh shit!'” said Deputy Mayor Allan Gloak. “Rob’s display was excellent, a real splash of color. He had hanging baskets, tubs and pots ? a great variety of plants. Unfortunately, we didn’t spot just how many varieties. We don’t condone cannabis, but Glastonbury is a bit of a hippie paradise and is well known for its free spirit. Cannabis plants even appear around the church and we often have to remove them from public displays. We can’t remove them on private property.”
Cannabis’ cannabis plants had already attracted the attention of local constable Rob Davis, who arrested Cannabis for cannabis.
“It was quite amusing, actually,” Rob remembers. “You have to understand that pot plants grow all over Glastonbury. There’s even one growing right now next to the post office doorway on High Street.”
We strolled in the cold rain down Glastonbury’s quaint main street, past shops selling the region’s magic and myth. It was a typically dreary December day. Rob pointed towards the cement. There, growing out of a crack in the sidewalk, was a tiny cannabis plant.
In June 1999, Cannabis went on trial for his prized cannabis display. As usual, he defended himself without assistance from an attorney. He read a 25 minute speech, explaining cannabis history, jury nullification, the spirituality of altered consciousness.
“How can it be a crime to water a prize-winning floral display?” Rob asked the court.
The judge, although not as hostile as the Straw Plant judge, told the jury it had to “uphold the law.” Rob was found guilty. The prosecution wanted ?1300 in fines and costs.
“The judge refused to hear of it,” Rob said. “He said: ‘Mr Cannabis is going to refuse to pay and then we will have to send him to prison, which will cost the taxpayers even more money.’ So they sent me to a local jail cell for six hours. That’s all.”
A month later, Cannabis was again arrested, this time for growing eight pot plants in front of his shop. While he was in jail, police searched his home. They found marijuana, DMT, mushrooms, and LSD.
Some people expected Cannabis to apologize for having drugs other than cannabis.
“I told police I had been giving away a variety of entheogens. I have nothing to hide. DMT and LSD were the liberators that helped me get in touch with spirit. I enjoy cannabis a lot, but these other entheogens were what really provided me with enlightenment. So I have no fear of admitting that I use them, and that I provide them to people. I give out LSD at parties,” Rob told me. “I will probably be put on trial next summer. It will give me a chance in open court to educate the judges, juries, media and public about how the drug war violates international law and human rights.”
Devotee of Shiva
I accompanied Rob to a wild weekend rave in London. He sat selling mushrooms and cannabis to ravers, at cost. Throughout the long night (the rave was in a cave, so the night seemed perpetual), tripping and stoned people kept returning to Rob’s booth to thank him for feeding their heads.
“I am a devotee of Shiva, the god of bhang,” Rob explained during a lull. “I don’t see myself as a drug dealer. I am spreading sacred plants of enlightenment.”
Earlier in Glastonbury, Rob had allowed me to photograph him packaging cannabis for shipment to medical users across England. He had 150 FMMF registration forms, each one recording details of a patient who had provided documentation of a medical condition treatable by cannabis.
We left the rave cave for a few hours Sunday afternoon to attend a marijuana legalization conference. Although the meeting was packed with sincere, dedicated activists from across the country, Free Rob became the main topic of discussion, as people debated whether it was ethical for him to sell cannabis and other drugs. At one point, there was talk of putting the issue to a vote.
“Rob is loved, feared, hated,” confided an activist. “He’s the only person who has the guts to directly and constantly challenge the government. He is against alcohol, and feels that anybody who is unwilling to sacrifice their entire life for this cause is a sell-out. He makes some of us feel inferior, guilty and hypocritical. Cannabis is part of my life, but not my whole life. I am afraid of getting arrested and going to prison. I admit I am doing less than is necessary to stop the injustice.”
When similar sentiments were voiced during group discussion, Free Rob pulled no punches.
“Everything you are saying is based on fear,” he told his critics. “If everybody who likes cannabis was willing to stand up at police stations and in courts and proclaim that cannabis is not a crime and that we will accept nothing less than total legalization, that we are not afraid of prison, these laws would end. But you are selfish and afraid, so you go along with the system. Your fear makes prohibition work.”
In trying to understand Rob’s apparently selfless path to martyrdom, I talked to Simon Andrews, a Glastonbury resident who runs a potsmoker’s bus tour from England to Amsterdam.
“Free Rob paid me ?4,000 to take 100 people across for a weekend of fun,” Simon reported. “A lot of them didn’t even know who he was. He just wanted everybody to get stoned, I guess.”
Rob said he spent most of the inheritance left him by his mother “helping to legalize entheogens.”
“My father is worried about me, but he backs me. A lot of people tell me I am stupid or crazy. But DMT and LSD have shown me the path of no ego,” he explained. “I can lose everything, because I am not just a little person alone in the universe ? I am connected to everything. If they put my body in prison, it doesn’t mean my spirit is in prison. I can do meditation there, and help other prisoners. But I refuse to visualize prison. We can end prohibition right now, as long as we defy whatever the government tries to scare us with. We can make freedom happen. We don’t have to live in fear.”
? Free Rob Cannabis needs donations and support for his upcoming trial. In Harmony With Nature, 1A Market Place, Glastonbury, England, BA6 9YU; tel: (intl code ) 1458-835-769 or 1458-833-236.