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UK: Inside the not-so-secret Teesside Cannabis Club, where members gather to smoke
Sunday 19 Aug 2018
With around 180 members all paying annual subscriptions, the club allows a safe and controlled place to smoke the substance in the heart of Middlesbrough.
Counting bank managers and psychologists among its members, the four-year-old Teesside Cannabis Club is going from strength to strength.
It has a worldwide membership - with smokers from Canada and the US signing up so they can visit when they’re in the UK.
And for the first time since its move into new premises six months ago, Teesside Live has been allowed inside to take a look round.
Club founder Michael Fisher sat down with reporter Mike Brown to explain how things work.
‘I think the stigma around cannabis is starting to disappear’
Michael set up his club using money from an inheritance around four years ago, and initially met weekly with like-minded smokers at Flatts Lane and in Stewart Park.
Quickly realising the numbers of people interested in socially using cannabis was growing, the Teesside Cannabis Club quickly moved into premises in South Bank.
“It wasn’t ideal,” said Michael, 33. “It was close to the Traveller Camp, and people would come for the first time and mistakenly think we were in there.
“But having somewhere to call our own was a really good start for us.”
As the club grew its membership, it grew in notoriety - even being featured on a Jeremy Kyle documentary about cannabis - and set its sights on its new home and moved in March.
“Having this new premises has really changed people’s perceptions,” Michael, from Berwick Hills, continued saying the stigma around cannabis is beginning to disappear.
“I think our average age when we started were people in their 20s, the typical ‘stoner’ types. But now we’ve seen the majority of our members are a lot older, 40 plus, and they come for the social aspect of it.”
Christine Taylor, who helps run the club along with Michael’s fellow director Simon Jackson and general manager Steven O’Dwyre, said being on Jeremy Kyle’s show helped change people’s perceptions.
It’s not the typical ‘stoner’ wearing a hat emblazoned with a cannabis leaf that typically visits.
“I think people saw what the club was all about,” she said. “They could see it wasn’t dangerous, the sort of people that come. It was just people gathering together to smoke cannabis and that there was nothing wrong with that. We’re signing up a lot of professionals.”
‘No dealing. No alcohol’
There are ground rules.
Club members must provide two types of identification and pay a £45 annual subscription fee, which is £30 a year from then on.
“There is no dealing and no supplying at the club,” said Michael, who said each member brings their own cannabis, usually grown themselves.
No other substances are allowed at all. No alcohol. And head shops and people who want to come and talk to people here have to come to management first.”
Members are only allowed to smoke in designated “consumption rooms” and must not use cannabis outside the club.
An air hockey and a pool table, comfy leather sofas, games and drinks machines are all available for smokers - along with a room which more closely resembles a social club, with chairs and tables.
“I think the best way I can describe what it’s like in here, is that it reminds me of a social club in the 1980s,” continued Michael.
“People come in for the social aspect, they enjoy cannabis, they make friends and have someone to talk to, and they pay their subs.
“Plus because we ask for ID, we don’t have anyone under age - in fact we hardly have any members in their 20s - and those who sign up know they’ll be coming to a safe space.”
New members can be referred by existing members, who meet on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 4pm - but anyone can join simply by signing up at www.teessidecannabisclub.co.uk
But cannabis is still illegal
Around 160 cannabis clubs have sprung up across the UK in recent years, but Teesside’s is one of the few that has a bricks and mortar premises.
But of course, cannabis is still illegal to possess - so how do they get round the law?
“I rented this building in the name ‘Teesside Cannabis Club’. We are registered with Companies House, and I pay taxes on my business,” said Michael.
“The conversation around cannabis is changing. In the states in the US where it’s been legalised, the local government is benefitting from increased taxes. The quality of the cannabis is better, and it’s pushing black market dealers out.
“That’s what I want to see happen here.”
He praised Durham Constabulary’s approach to drug enforcement, after its Police and Crime Commissioner Ron Hogg stopped having officers target pot smokers and small-scale growers. Mr Hogg has met with Michael before to see how the club operates.
Michael has also previously told Teesside Live that the club has a good reputation with Cleveland Police, although they are less vocal on drugs issues.
“We have never had an incident of violence, any anti-social behaviour incidents, or any other criminality at all since we’ve been open,” continued Michael.
But what about local businesses?
Its branding - the club crest, emblazoned with its ‘If You Know, You Know’ motto on the window - is discreet.
“Maybe not every business round here knows what we do, but everyone we’ve spoken to has been fine with it,” he continued. “We’ve had local firms do jobs for us.”
Will we see more clubs like this open up?
Michael thinks so. He could talk for hours about cannabis legislation - how controlled legalisation works so well in America, how the UK could benefit from taxation, and how police would be freed up to fight more serious crimes if it stopped criminalising cannabis.
And he also believes there should be more drugs education in schools for children.
“I’ve only ever used cannabis, really. I started for medicinal reasons and then we developed the club,” he said.
“But I went to school with people who had sniffed, smoked and swallowed every type of drug before we were 14 and they had no idea what they were putting in their bodies.
“If children were educated, they have the option to make an informed choice.
As he shows us round the spacious top-floor club, Michael says the speed of change in the public conversation on cannabis means potentially hundreds more clubs could spring up over the next few years.
“If we’re still around in five years time then things will have changed so much that clubs like us will be common.”
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