Inside Britain’s underground cannabis clubs
Reporter Michael Mander meets those at the forefront of the burgeoning cannabis club movement and finds out what goes on when a new club is founded
Darwen is a small, historic town in the centre of Lancashire. It has three secondary schools, two public parks, a smattering of churches and — now — the newest cannabis club in the UK.
The number of cannabis clubs in the UK continues to grow, yet the general public remains largely unaware of their existence. There are more than 50 clubs, spanning many counties in the UK. The clubs attract a community of cannabis consumers: from those who take cannabis for the medicinal benefits, to those who “smoke up” recreationally. Many support the decriminalisation of cannabis use to some degree.
Not deterred by the illegality of cannabis, the clubs are vocal on social media and arrange events and meetups that attract hundreds.
Lancashire Cannabis Club boasts 645 members on Facebook and is founded and lead by the charismatic Daniel (not his real name), a man deeply passionate about the legalisation of medicinal marijuana. Daniel tells me that he isn’t concerned about the current law against possession and distribution of cannabis. “They can try and lock me up for helping people if they want,” he says. “I’ve been doing this through different angles in the public eye now for nearly eight years. Haven’t been to jail yet.
“All that matters now is giving unbiased information and education. The public can make up their mind from there.”
Shit side effects
This established club has taken some big steps. Working with the community on the launch of a “medicinal HQ”, head shops and even getting key local figures on side. Daniel even shows me that the North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner, Arfon Jones, has engaged with him on Facebook.
But the illegal nature of cannabis makes these clubs difficult to run. I have trouble arranging a meeting with Daniel, since his engagements as leader of the club seem to be organised at the very last second, or in secret locations. He warns me of “shit side effects” if we were to meet at one of the club’s dispensaries: “robberies happen … we risk being attacked, robbed at gunpoint etc.”
When a date is finally set for us to meet, Daniel is arrested, but not charged, for his activities related to the club (but not actually for possessing or distributing cannabis). A head shop we arrange to meet at is then raided by police. It seems that Daniel’s day-to-day life is filled with tribulations because of his passion for this campaign.
Inspired by larger clubs such as these — and what he perceives as a gap in the market — Miles Casey set about creating a new Cannabis Club in the small Lancashire town of Darwen. Starting with an online presence, the Darwen Cannabis Club developed a following and small community. I join Casey and the early members of the club for their first official event.
At the event I get chance to chat to Casey and the members about what the club is up to. While postering Darwen, they say they have received only curiosity and questions — no animosity — from residents. In the house he shares with a handful of others, two cats and a dog, Casey lights up a joint and explains his ambition to grow marijuana upstairs that can be sold to recreational users. The profit would be reinvested and 30% of the grow would be free for medicinal users. He has ideas for a coffee shop — perhaps permanent or temporary — to be set up in Darwen. Other members are more grounded. “Until the law changes,” a young man wearing hemp slippers interrupts, “we are limited in what we can do.”
Casey supports the what’s often called the “right to grow” — legalisation of growing cannabis for personal use. Other members support a more sweeping programme of legislation, and think a right to grow would disadvantage people without the equipment to turn the cannabis plant into other forms of consumption.
They paint a picture of an inclusive cannabis community: “We want to be a positive force in Darwen,” Casey says. “There are people who can’t leave their house [without cannabis]. They can’t function.”
Casey has a day-job as a journalist in Manchester. He perceives the attitude of the police to his newly-forming cannabis club as generally one of tolerance — but he is aware he might only be a few steps away from an arrest. “I think it’s worth the risk,” he says — but he expresses concern that, if ever a charge were brought against him, “it might fuck up the possibility of a career in America. But you’ve got to stand up for what you believe in”.
A spokesperson for Lancashire Police says tackling cannabis use is a key priority, telling The Overtake: “Possessing, growing or selling cannabis is illegal. We have a wide variety of powers at our disposal to tackle criminal activity involving cannabis and will not hesitate to do so where it is in the public interest.
“I would encourage the public to look out for the signs of cannabis use and cultivation and report anything suspicious to the police on 101.”
For some members, their cannabis advocacy has put a strain on family relationships, especially with their parents — but Casey says his mum and dad are on board, despite some initial scepticism, with his founding of the club.
About a month later and Darwen Cannabis Club is in full swing. Their second event, the first public meet, is a more organised affair. The “Summer Solstice Blaze” sees the group gathered by the historic Darwen Tower — with stalls, some food and loads of marijuana. Attendees include Doctor Denz — a YouTuber whose reviews of cannabis strains have garnered nearly 30,000 views — and Route 420 — a “mobile coffee shop”.
“The best part of the event,” explains Casey later, “was getting to meet the people we’d spoken to through the Facebook page, especially the medicinal patients, who told us they had a really nice time.”
“One guy with severe back problems hadn’t left the house in eight weeks and was grateful that we’d put something on which he could come to, which was a personal highlight.”
Following this first public event, Casey and the club have now secured a weekly venue in which they plan to hold meet and greets. They still have big ambitions — to offer a greater range of cannabis strains, to start offering tutorials, and to set up food stalls and entertainment at their next event.
Casey says: “This was the first step of something special and we’re sure the future holds big things for DCC.”