If you've been watching the Netflix series The Crown, you already know how stodgy and conservative Britain's royal family can be. But every so often they do something progressive - like when Prince Charles helped an illegal marijuana grower avoid prison. No, the crown prince - who turns 68 today - didn't take the stand in the woman's defence. But comments he made almost 20 years ago about medical marijuana helped her beat the case.
Back in 1998, Prince Charles met Karen Drake - a patient with multiple sclerosis - at an English care center. She later told the press that the heir of Elizabeth II wanted to know if she had tried using medical marijuana.
"He asked me if I had tried taking cannabis, saying he understood that, under strict medical supervision, it was one of the best things for it," Drake said. That comment caused controversy because medical marijuana was illegal back then and remains prohibited in the United Kingdom even today.
So the news was a pleasant surprise for British cannabis advocates like Labour MP Paul Flynn, whose praise for the prince's comment couldn't have sounded more English unless he added 'cheerio.'
"It is splendid advice from a most unexpected source," Flynn said back in 1998. "The Government is in a tiny minority on this issue, but I am encouraged to learn that the high level of popular support for the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes has reached Buckingham Palace."
However, the prince's handlers quickly poured cold water on the idea that the establishment was advocating for marijuana reform. "Prince Charles is aware of the issue of the use of cannabis for MS sufferers," a spokeswoman said. "Health is one of his major portfolios, and I think people would be surprised if he wasn't aware of the debate on the treatment of MS sufferers."
But his comment has had an impact on British drug policy. Last month, Michelle X - a patient with multiple sclerosis who was arrested for growing cannabis for personal, medicinal consumption - was given a conditional discharge after using Prince Charles in her defence. She told the judge that she began using cannabis to treat her symptoms after hearing about his comment from 1998.
"I thought if a member of the Royal Family knows about this plant, I should investigate it further," she told the court. And that research led her to begin regularly treating her MS symptoms with marijuana.
So you could call Prince Charles the accidental cannabis activist.
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