Columnist claims Caldwell family being ‘used’ in PR drive to legalise recreational cannabis
Lobbyists have been accused by a leading commentator of exploiting the plight of a seriously ill Co Tyrone boy to try to legalise recreational cannabis.
Charlotte Caldwell from Castlederg is at the centre of a high-profile campaign to legalise medicinal cannabis for her son Billy (10), who suffers from severe epilepsy.
But in a column for the Mail on Sunday, Peter Hitchens claimed the PR team behind the campaign was using the family for their own ends.
He said he had every sympathy for the Caldwells but took issue with their representatives.
While researching their story, he said he came up against "a high wall of spokesmen, professional PR men, sympathisers and advisers including one very rich man who has engaged in public campaigns to legalise marijuana for general use".
The columnist continued, saying he met resistance when asking for specific details about Billy's cannabis oil medication.
Mr Hitchens said he received a "gruff and suspicious dismissal" from a source he hadn't contacted in the first place, who said that Ms Caldwell had been "very upset by this line of questioning".
The writer concluded that the episode was "much more about snake oil than cannabis oil".
"Charlotte Caldwell is wholly innocent in the matter, but in my view she is being used by others," he wrote. "They hope that, by associating marijuana with medicine, they can soften its image and soften you up to accept the legalisation they long for."
He said Conservative peer William Hague's sudden decision to support cannabis legalisation illustrated this.
"There is absolutely no logical connection between Charlotte Caldwell's plight and this highly dangerous policy," he said.
"The only link is a carefully fanned emotional spasm, in which sympathy for a sick child is skilfully manipulated by PR men into polishing the image of a very dangerous and nasty drug which, if it is legalised, will make this country a far, far worse place to live in," Mr Hitchens added.
A spokesman for Families 4 Access, a UK led campaign for access to cannabis medicines, denied they were using families to push for recreational drugs.
"It's a materially different issue to recreational cannabis. No one's going to confuse the right of someone to smoke a joint with the right to get medicine for themselves," he said.
"I'm not surprised by Peter Hitchens' comments, he's bound to say that. His position is that no one is pursuing the war on drugs and he's been printing columns on that for the last 15 years.
"But I've spoken to him and he knows what our position is, it's about medicinal cannabis. I think at the moment that's what the public want.
"In terms of recreational cannabis all I'd say is let's wait and see what happens in Canada. They're the first country in the world to legalise cannabis. So we can look at that in due course but at the moment it's not on anyone's short-term agenda."
Speaking at the Politics Festival in London last week, Ms Caldwell acknowledged that some people were using medicinal cannabis as a "trojan horse" to legalise recreational use.
"We need to put patients first. They're dying. There are kids dying in this country," she said.
"I think recreational cannabis is something that's going to have to wait."
Last week, Home Secretary Sajid Javid announced a review into the medicinal use of cannabis but said he would not support legalising recreational use.
The review will be held in two parts, the first to look at what products may offer a real medical and therapeutic benefit.
The second part of the review will consider the current classification of the drug, weighing the harm it may cause against public health needs.
After Mr Hague claimed the war on cannabis had been lost, the Home Office warned there was no place for debating recreational use in the current review.