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UK: London24 meets the man who wants to be the marijuana Mayor of London

Naomi Ackerman


Wednesday 27 Apr 2016

“One love!” is the catchprase of the hippy, ‘head shop’ owning, 79-year-old CISTA candidate for London Mayor. London24 talks legalisation, munchies and more with counterculture legend Lee Harris.

We asked Lee what he thinks is the best thing to eat when you get the munchies. He smiled and responded: "Not too much fruit and nuts" (Picture: London24) Q: Why are you running for mayor? A: I’m lucky that I am here (running for Mayor), it’s a dream come true. I was at the first legalise pot rally in Hyde Park 49 years ago during the ‘summer of love’ and I have waited 49 years for possession of cannabis to be legalised and not treated as a criminal offence. Q: What does London mean to you? A: I love London. I came from South Africa to London at the age of 19, 60 years ago, on a ship from Cape Town. I came on my own and I was awe inspired by this great city. I used to walk around here as a young man and say ‘London belongs to me’, and in some strange way here I am standing to be Mayor of London. Q: Why do you want to legalise cannabis? A: What we want to do is regulate, legalise and tax marijuana, or cannabis, because there are over one million regular cannabis consumers in London. If we do this we will get an estimated £2 billion in tax.

Alcohol is a big problem in our society - have you seen Louis Theroux’s latest documentary? Alcohol costs the NHS £3.5 billion each year. Every saturday night in this country we have people having drunken fights, getting knocked unconscious - we should keep a strict rule on alcohol by taxing it and stopping underage drinking. If people smoke cannabis they will drink less and, unlike with alcohol, young people won’t be able to get hold of legalised marijuana underage because it will be sold on licensed premises. Legalised marijuana will be quality controlled - unlike skunk on the black market. It is about making cannabis legal and acceptable. There is a need for medical marijuana here, so that patients with MS and kids with epilepsy or seizures can get dispensaries for cannabis on the NHS. There have been prosecutions of hundreds of thousands of young people every year for possession of a very harmless drug. When I spoke to one London policeman and told him I was standing as a candidate for the legalisation of cannabis, he said ‘oh, but then we will have nothing else to do!’. The stop and searching, the racial profiling that has gone on over the decades in relation to marijuana is awful. Don’t stop and search young people in London, help them. Q: Can the London Mayor actually make cannabis legal?

A: As Mayor I would campaign to change the way the UN currently treats cannabis as a non-therapeutic Schedule One drug.

Who is Lee Harris? Party Cannabis Is Safer Than Alcohol (CISTA). Lee’s bid for London Mayor is being backed by philanthropist and drug reform campaigner Paul Birch, who sold Bebo to internet giant AOL for £585 million in 2005. Background Lee describes himself as a decades-long cannabis pioneer and activist - he attended what became the 4/20 celebrations in Hyde Park back in the ‘summer of love’ in 1969. Lee is a denizen of London’s counterculture scene and has had many jobs, including the roles of publisher and editor of Homegrown, Europe’s first cannabis magazine, and is the owner of London’s oldest ‘head shop’, Alchemy, in Portobello Road. Personal The 79-year-old was born in South Africa, but left on a boat for England in the 1950s to get away from the then-Apartheid run country. He told London24 when he arrived in London it became home and “felt like mine”. He lived in the capital for many decades and now lives in Suffolk - though he comes to London at least once a week to help run his business, campaign for CISTA and spend time with his daughter who lives in Hackney. He is a grandfather of three, comes from a Jewish background and is now a practicing Buddhist. In London we would definitely be able to, through the Police and Crime Commission, stop all stop and searches for drugs - especially for cannabis. There would be de facto decriminalisation; convictions would go down and people would be given cautions. If London decriminalised marijuana it would send an inspiring example all over the world. Q: Would you also want to try and legalise other drugs? A: Yes, yes, because, first of all, I think the psychedelic drugs like LSD, MDMA and all these can be regulated and legalised. Some of there are very healing and can be used in psychiatric medicine to help people. It is a health issue and not a crime issue. Punishing people and putting them in prison for something which is a health problem is so sad. We need treatment centres to help heroin addicts, cocaine addicts, and we need to get people off prescription drugs - which are the worst drugs in our society. If we supply heroin in a controlled way through doctors, people can work, do things, have a family, because it would no longer be part of a black market with dirty needles. We need needle exchanges and an NHS that loves and helps young people with addiction problems.

Q: What are your policies as a London Mayoral candidate other than legalisation of cannabis? A: One of my other key policies is about renewable energy. I want every house in London to have its own basement grid with a ‘Harris House Battery’ to generate electricity. The grids would tap into cheaper electricity for seven hours each day to heat people’s homes, pollution-free. Housing is another key issue. Housing is a terrible problem in London. My young daughter in London, who lives in Hackney, has to pay a terrifying amount of rent. More extremely, walking through the streets I am amazed at how many homeless people there are sleeping rough, starving, hysterical almost. Quoting Allen Ginsberg: ‘looking for an angry fix,/angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night’, from Howl. People are priced out of the market. There need to be fair rents too. Rents should only go up every two years. We need rent officers like we used to have - a valuation officer would set limits on the amounts rents could go up. I would put in a rent cap. Q: What is the biggest threat to London right now? A: We have to be vigilant for terror attacks. Another big threat to London is its inequality - it will bring violence and envy and it’s unfair. So is hate crime, which is one of the worst things in society. We have got to learn to love each other and respect each other’s differences. I come from a Jewish background and saw what happened in Europe 80 years ago, and lived in a racist society in South Africa, so I want to see London remains a wonderful centre of many ethnic minorities, and be a place where everyone gets on well and is happy. Q: Where do you think London’s first cannabis cafe should be? A: I would like to see it in West London in Notting Hill Gate because people are acclimatised and ready for change there. I would like to apply for a license for me and my shop, Alchemy! Other ways to bring marijuana into London in a social way would include cannabis clubs, coffee shops and dispensaries. People could also grow their own not-for-profit marijuana and share it with clubs all over England. (Cannabis clubs are already running with CBDs - non psychoactive elements of cannabis, cannabinoids - which though they don’t get you high, they do chill you out and help you get to sleep). Q: What’s the best thing to eat when you get the munchies? A: Don’t eat too much chocolate or cheesecake, because you can get awfully fat. But the munchies are quite a nice thing! Drink orange juice and eat fruit and nuts, but not too much junk food because it’s bad for you. Don’t eat burgers one after the other, or chips, and don’t throw your litter on the ground - recycle! Q: If you had to promote your campaign in one sentence, and say why people should vote for you, what would it be? A: Legalise it, regulate it, tax it. One Love.
Copyright © LONDON24




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