Image of Paul Birch of the Cista Party
Belfast Telegraph ~ Northern Ireland ~
Vulnerable people are missing out on medical treatment due to governmental refusal to treat cannabis the same way as alcohol, a newcomer to election campaigning has claimed.
The Cannabis Is Safer Than Alcohol party (Cista) is calling for a Royal Commission to review current UK drug laws.
Its goal is to achieve the decriminalisation of cannabis and the establishment of a regulated industry for its supply.
The party, which was founded earlier this year by Paul Birch, the co-founder of social networking site Bebo, launched its Northern Ireland manifesto in Belfast tonight.
It is fielding 32 candidates in the UK.
Its total of four in Northern Ireland was sufficient to secure it the right for a party political broadcast, which will be shown on BBC One NI and UTV this week.
Outlining the manifesto, Mr Birch said he accepted Cista was a "single issue party".
He said there was no real debate on whether cannabis was safer than alcohol.
"It is a fact, I wouldn't even say it's a claim," he said.
"I would say it's a scientific, evidential fact clear to anyone who spends a little time looking at it.
"If you Google 'is cannabis safer than alcohol' Google will tell you the answer about 100 times in the first 10 pages."
He said successive governments had pursued a "pointless" drugs policy that "doesn't do anyone any good".
"It's just a waste of police money and time and we are flushing tax revenue away," he said.
"Medical cannabis is one of the victims of the war on drugs - that's why medical cannabis is not available in the UK."
Mr Birch said his motivation to get into politics came from personal experience.
"Having consumed cannabis and alcohol over my lifetime I became aware from personal experience that cannabis was less harmful," he said.
"Then I went on the internet about 10 years ago and started looking around and, to my profound surprise, I discovered the gap between cannabis and alcohol was a chasm in terms of safety.
"At that point I then started looking around for other people who were pursing the topic of trying to get things changed and then in December I decided to make the jump and set up this party and we launched a couple of months ago."
Cista candidate for North Down Glenn Donnelly is a chronic pain sufferer and claims the drugs he has been prescribed by medics have negative side-effects.
"There are much less risks and addictive potential associated with medicinal cannabis," he said.
"Sufferers of chronic conditions should not be criminalised for accessing the treatment they need."
Cista says cannabis has been proved to help people with epilepsy, MS, Crohn's disease and provide pain relief for many other chronic conditions.
It claims the vulnerable and sick are having to resort to "street dealers" because of a government fear of decriminalising the product.
Barry Brown, Cista's West Tyrone candidate, said Northern Ireland's current leaders had not delivered.
"The people of Northern Ireland deserve a better way to bring about change, reform and progress than the one that the dinosaurs have promoted," he said.
"We want people to know that Cista stands up for decent people who want to live in a country where the laws about drugs make sense and allow people dignity and the right to make informed choices."

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