CHRIS Baldwin, who stood as a candidate for East Worthing and Shoreham in
the 2001 general election, has been a passionate campaigner for the
legalisation of cannabis. His efforts led to the opening of a Dutch-style
coffee shop, selling herbal marijuana and cannabis resin. He gave the Argus
an exclusive interview before he was jailed on Friday for drug
offences. HUW BORLAND reports.

The legalisation of cannabis has been debated by medical researchers and
politicians for decades.

Pro-cannabis campaigners insist it can give effective relief for a range of
physical and mental conditions with minimal side effects.

Opponents argue that smoking cannabis can lead to stronger, more addictive
drugs and have a damaging effect on the psyche.

Chris Baldwin, of Carnegie Close, Worthing, had been using marijuana for
about 30 years when he won 920 votes for the Legalise Cannabis Alliance
(LCA) in the 2001 General Election.

Baldwin, 53, suffers from spastic paraplegia, uses crutches, and says using
cannabis helped to combat debilitating leg spasms.

To further promote cannabis being legalised, especially for medical
reasons, Baldwin took a step which would spur a series of police raids,
spark threats from drug dealers and put him in prison for six months.

He leased a property in Rowlands Road, Worthing, and opened a Dutch-style
coffee shop called the Quantum Leaf in the summer of 2002.

Set behind a pot smoking paraphernalia store called Bongchuffa, the cafe
sold 13 types of marijuana, hash cakes and ready-rolled joints, as well as
sandwiches and soft drinks.

Baldwin said: "I'd been to Holland but opening a cannabis cafe here in
Britain was pure fantasy.

"Then I got invited to do a five-day course to teach you how to manage a
coffee shop.

"The LCA had nothing to do with it. A coffee shop owner called Nol Van
Schaik paid for the course because he thought cannabis should not be illegal.

"I'd written hundreds of letters to the Home Office went to every
pro-cannabis rally, march and meeting and lobbied Parliament.

I felt a coffee shop was at the sharp end of the political campaign."

Baldwin's cafe was first raided by police on November 27, 2002 just a few
weeks after it opened.

An estimated UKP 2000 worth of cannabis and more than UKP 4000 in cash was
seized by officers. After the raid, customer numbers doubled and some
residents complained of the queues of people waiting for the cafe to open.

Chief Inspector Russ Whitfield, police commander for Worthing district,
said cannabis cafes were earning thousands of pounds every week and were
devoid of any political stance.

Baldwin opened another coffee shop called Buddy's in Broughton Road, East
Worthing, and concerned homeowners demanded a police crackdown.

Baldwin said:" I'd say the response to the cafes was mostly pretty good.

"Some people felt uncomfortable but that was more due to a lack of
understanding.

"Once we were taking up so much of police resources, we could not be
justified and so we had to close. Police were pressing charges.

"I'm aware from the support I have that jailing me could make me a martyr.

"I did not set out to achieve martyrdom. I don't see myself that way but
putting me away will naturally create one."

During the five-month period the cafes were open, drug dealers in Worthing
were losing customers and their violent threats forced Baldwin to enlist
doormen for the cafes.

They enforced strict policies of no under 18's, no alcohol and no hard drugs.

Baldwin said: "The threats scared me. That was the first time I had
thoughts of giving it up. People were going to get hurt. We got burgled
on three occasions."

He denied the cafes made thousands of pounds in profits. Instead, much of
the money drained away as a result of giving free drugs to disability
sufferers, running homeless charity events, police seizures and stashes of
cannabis regularly being "ripped off" by volunteers.

He said: "If I started again I'd be a little more boss-like. But it was a
family thing I created. The whole thing was a community project."

Former Metropolitan police Detective Chief Superintendent Edward Ellison
had met Baldwin at LCA marches and spoke as a character witness for him
during his trial.

He said: "I would trust him (Baldwin) with looking after my children but if
I wanted to look after a business, I'd probably go to my children first."

On Friday Baldwin was jailed for six months for allowing cannabis to be
used at a property, cannabis possession with intent to supply and
possession of cannabis.

Judge John Sessions said his sentence was reduced because of the
forthcoming reclassification of marijuana.

On January 29, it will become a class C drug, which means possession of
cannabis will no longer be an arrestable offence.

Maximum penalties for Baldwin's crimes will be reduced from 14 years to
five years.

Baldwin said: "To the voters of East Worthing, I will be back for the next
election unless I die and my colleague Sarah Chalk will be standing for the
West Worthing seat - we'll be covering the whole of Worthing."

After Baldwin was jailed, tearful cannabis campaigner Ms Chalk spoke of her
outrage.

She said: "Chris has helped so many people and he's repaid by being sent to
prison. I think it is an absolute disgrace.

"It goes to show how the law of this country desperately, desperately,
desperately needs changing."


Pubdate: Mon, 12 Jan 2004
Source: Argus, The (UK)
Copyright: 2004 Newsquest Media Group
Contact: letters@theargus.co.uk
Website: http://www.thisisworthing.co.uk