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ex-POW Graeme Steel





Thursday July 4th
Graeme launches new web site

Graeme launched our new worldwide web site at the Electric Frog cybercafe in Edinburgh. The site will feature Scottish news, prisoners and medical users stories, and the opinions of Scottish professionals and experts about drug law reform. LCC Scotland hope to encourage political lobbying electronically and to publish material which would not be seen in mainstream publications. After only 2 hours we received our first supporter form reply from a medical user in Yorkshire.

Steel said I believe that the internet could be the perfect medium for revitalising our democracy, by involving individuals in the decisions that their leaders take. We intend to use the internet to publish information, cheaply and without censorship; to distribute campaigning materials, and to share resources with other campaigning groups in Britain and worldwide.

Graeme Steel, the 29 year old co-ordinator of LCC Scotland has been in the news a lot in the last year, following his imprisonment for growing cannabis for his own personal use. Graeme has a famous father, the former Liberal leader, Sir David Steel MP, and right-wing tabloids love attacking Graeme in the hope of connecting the Lib-Dems with drugs.

Graeme and his wife Lynne live a relatively self-sufficient life in a farm cottage near Galashiels, in the shadow of Pot Law Hill! They lived in a caravan while they renovated two adjacent farm cottages: the second was sold to fund the renovations. They grow a lot of their own food, and have three dogs. Graeme was in trouble with the law ten years ago, and he blames this on alcohol, which he now rarely drinks. He considers cannabis a socially and medically safer recreational drug. At present Graeme is working as a gardener for an experimental sustainable horticulture project.

Before he was imprisoned Graeme had been planning to set up a hemp shop in Edinburgh. With help from Trust Training, a local community enterprise agency, he conducted market research and developed a business plan. Trust Training said: "Graeme came across as very sensible and completely serious about his hemp project. It was evaluated by our experts and would not have got to the business plan stage if we had not thought it viable and well thought out."

In 1994 Graeme germinated and planted 120 Northern Lights seeds along the side of an outbuilding. After a month he thinned out the plants leaving 30, covered by a simple lean to. He watered the plants every second day and despite a small problem with greenfly they grew very quickly, until they were taller than Graeme.

At the end of the summer, just as the plants were ready to be harvested, Graeme and Lynne were busted following an anonymous tip off to the police. Graeme and Lynne spent the weekend in jail in the Borders, with the police making no provision for their dogs to be fed. On the Monday morning they were both charged with production and intent to supply. The police's reasoning was that they had tickets for a rave in Barrowlands - therefore they must have been planning to go there to sell cannabis! The police asked for them to be remanded in custody, but the judge disagreed.

Plea barginning went on for a year, as various court appearances were postponed. The report of expert witness Matthew Atha, pointing out the many flaws in the prosecution case made a strong barginning position. Eventually all charges against Lynne were dropped, as well as the intent to supply charges against Graeme. The prosecution claimed that the 40 plants were worth 30000; the defence that they were worth between 500 and 4600, and that they were only a years supply for Graeme and his girlfriend Lynn. Graeme pled guilty to producing cannabis, and sentence was deferred for 2 weeks for background reports.

At the High Court in Edinburgh, on October the 27th 1995, Graeme was sentenced to nine months imprisonment, and taken to medium-security Friarton Prison near Perth. Civil rights groups and prominent figures, including Sir Russell Johnston, Lib Dem MP for Nairn, attacked the sentence as too harsh and suggested that a community service order would have been more appropriate.

The Prison Diary

As a leading hemp campaigner Graeme was determined to use his time in prison well, so he began writing a prison diary for serialisation on the UK Cannabis Information website, and in the LCC Scotland newsletter. Writing in the language of the prison, Graeme hoped to describe prison and its characters, and to express his feelings at being locked up for preferring cannabis to alcohol. He quickly made friends with other cannabis offenders, who made up 20% of the Friarton prisoners. The Prisoners of War included Jim Murdoch, one of the Strathearn Seven, and Robert MacGillivary from Mull doing 12 months for production and supply to his friends. At his trial, a letter from many of the islanders was presented to the court. They asked the judge to show leniency as MacGillivary, 46, was a popular member of the local community.

Graeme began by describing day-to-day life: "There are two wings, A-wing is full of the weegies from Glasgow. We call it Vietnam. There are a lot of cons from Glasgow with heroin habits, jailed for stealing etc. I'm in B-wing with the Grouses which is anybody from outside Glasgow. We live in a group system, but we have our own cells. I've got a ghetto blaster and loads of dope posters up in mine."

For the first 2 days he worked "in the sheds, sewing up sheets with a sewing machine", but luckily "the other cons got me a job in the kitchens, and I started there on tuesday afternoon. The best crowd work in the kitchens." Graeme began by washing dishes, and peeling potatoes and was eventually promoted to frying chips. "Friarton has never had such good chips! I quite often have to wash the floor. When I'm doing it I have to laugh; I'm washing floors in a prison just because I grew some hemp in my garden. We work from 7am - 12pm and 3pm - 5pm. I get paid 7.50 a week and all of that goes on phonecards."

Graeme didn't find the warders as friendly as the other prisoners: "my favourite sport is winding up the screws. Some are ok but most are idiots. Group 4 wouldn't have them." When Graeme found out he had been voted hero No.3 in i-D magazine, it "shut some of the screws up. Ha ha! I have had lots of mail which I really enjoy. I love it when the screws have to give me about 5 personal letters, and all they got that morning was bills!".

The officer in charge of the wing tried to stop Graeme getting an entitled visit from Lynne. He claimed that Graeme's "admission visit" counted as one of his fortnightly visits, when it didn't. "They tried to say that my first visit wasn't an admission visit and that this jail didn't have to give admission visits. Obviously I wasn't going to accept this. So I had to take out my first official complaint. You have to fill out a complaint form. Then the screw involved has to answer it within 24 hours. If that doesn't help then you can take your complaint to a more senior screw and finally to the governor. So I filled in the form with a very detailed explanation. I waited until the next shift and handed it in. Within 2 hours a senior officer gave me my visit pass. Ha ha! I've still to see the wing officer who tried to deny me my visit. I don't think he'll be happy. A victory over the screws always makes it a good day."

The novelty of jail wore off quickly and Graeme became bored and depressed. "Sometimes I just want to lie on my bed and listen to jungle." However the prisoners made the most of the holiday season, Robert MacGillivary played Santa, and they had "the best Hogmany possible to have in prison. They decorated the kitchen and crockery with legalisation stickers which annoyed the prison officers.

Midsummers Day
Graeme and Lynne tie the knot

Graeme and Lynne, his girlfriend of 11 years, were married at a ceremony at his fathers tower in the Borders on midsummers day. The wedding was attended by family, close friends, and some unwelcome gatecrashers from The Sun. The bride was dressed in white like a sprite from A Midsummer Nights Dream, and a jazz band played. The following day the couple hosted a jungle night at their home. Friends, ex-POWs and cannabis activists enjoyed a great party which continued well into sunday afternoon. Top Scottish jungle DJ, KMC played a great set, as did DJ's from Selkirk's Headrush club.

Tuesday May 7th
Graeme Steel attacks hypocrisy

At a press conference at Glasgow city chambers, Graeme helped launch Scotland Against Drugs Hypocrisy, a lobbying organisation set up to counter the moral hysteria of Michael Forsyth's Scotland Against Drugs campaign. Also on the panel were Kevin Williamson, SADH co-ordinator and editor of Rebel Inc, Clare Wyburn, ex-club editor of M8, who is writing a book about ecstasy, and Tommy Sheridan, Scottish Militant councillor and chairman of Scottish Socialist Alliance. The SAD campaign was described as an expensive glossy publicity exercise, that would have no effect on the real problems of drug abuse. SADH said that most drugs workers supported them but they couldn't speak out in public because they were government funded.

Graeme said the SAD campaign was an attack on youth culture, and attacked its hypocrisy: "This is a war on people who enjoy cannabis in preference to alcohol. Politicians are hypocrites who should look at their own alcohol and tobacco use before they condemn others. Most of them probably have enough booze at home to knock out a rugby team. Cannabis has never killed anyone, yet 80% of drugs offences are for cannabis." Most of the major papers covered the press conference, surprisingly the best report was in The Sun. The press conference made the early evening news on both STV and BBC Scotland, and SADH were featured in radio reports throughout the day.

Wednesday April 17th
Graeme's Guardian article printed

The Guardian published a full page article, "Why I'll Fight For Hemp" in their second section. In the article Graeme described some of the events of the past two years of his life, outlined the case for hemp and attacked the waste of money of imprisonment. "It cost 700 a week to imprison me, money that could have been spent on schools and hospitals." Graeme paid particular attention to the lies of the anti-cannabis lobby: "They are well-organised and funded, perhaps by the same brewing industry that aggressively promotes high-strength alcohol to young people ... these organisations even claim that the medical use of cannabis is a hoax". He thought it was inhumane to continue to deny relief to ill people, when 70% of doctors think they should be able to prescribe cannabis. "How much money could be saved from NHS budgets by allowing doctors to prescribe cheap cannabis instead of expensive synthetic pharmaceuticals?"

Monday March 11th
Graeme Steel released.

Graeme was released from Friarton Prison near Perth at 6am. He had served half of a nine month sentence for production of cannabis for his own personal use. He was met by his girlfriend Lynne and a BBC Scotland camera crew. Later Graeme was interviewed by them at the Peebles Hydro hotel. In the interview, broadcast that evening on Reporting Scotland, Graeme accused judges of "protecting those involved in organised crime" by jailing cannabis growers, who try to avoid drug dealers. He said that jailing cannabis growers was a waste of public money, that would not help solve Scotland's drug problems. He accused the Scottish courts of making an example of him, and pointed out that last November, The Lancet stated that long-term smoking of cannabis is not harmful: "I'd rather take my health advice from a doctor than from a judge."

Sunday 21st January 1996
POWs letter published

Graeme was one of five prisoners in Friarton, all jailed for growing cannabis for their own personal use who had a letter published in the Commentary section of Scotland On Sunday. Two weeks earlier the paper published a major feature on Scottish Secretary Michael Forsyth's calls for a "crusade" against "plague" of drugs, and asked for reader's responses. In the letter "Bars put drugs war in perspective" the POWs pointed out that their families were the real victims of the war. They asked Mr Forsyth whether he thought jailing them would stop the millions of ordinary cannabis smokers in the UK from using and enjoying cannabis: "What are the real costs to society, of prohibition - even just in police, forensic, legal and court costs? How much does prohibition damage society compared to cannabis use?" The POWs pointed out that the war on drugs was a war on people who used cannabis, which has never killed anyone, as opposed to the deadly and legal drugs: "Nobody wants to go to war with publicans, off-licences or tobacconists. In fact, the Conservatives will not even ban advertising for these dangerous drugs. Possibly because they receive party donations from these drug suppliers."

Sunday December 10th 1995
Graeme's prison diary "scandal"

Graeme published two extracts from his prison diary (from November the 3rd and 13th) on the Internet. Unfortunately right-wing tabloids wanted to attack the reputation of his famous father. A journalist phoned up the Governor of Friarton, Edward Gordon, and this caused a lot of trouble for Graeme. The Mail on Sunday described the diaries as "propaganda" which was ironic, considering that they selectively quoted from the diaries to show prisoners and Graeme in the worst possible light, and prisons and warders in the best. Some of the quotes deeply upset the prison staff, and to placate the Governor, Graeme asked UKCIA to remove the diary.

October the 27th 1995
Graeme gets nine months

At the High Court in Edinburgh, Graeme was sentenced to nine months imprisonment by Lord Cameron. He spent a night in Saughton while the prison authorities decided what to do with him, then he was then taken to medium-security Friarton Prison near Perth. Civil rights groups and prominent figures, including Sir Russell Johnston, Lib Dem MP for Nairn, attacked the sentence as too harsh and suggested that a community service order would have been more appropriate. Two weeks earlier Graeme had pled guilty to producing cannabis, and sentence was deferred for 2 weeks for background reports. The prosecution claimed that the 40 plants were worth 30000; the defence that they were worth between 500 and 4600, and that they were only a years supply for Graeme and his girlfriend Lynn.
 

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