Paul Flynn, who once challenged MPs to smoke cannabis in parliament as an act of civil disobedience, died on Monday aged 84.
The Welshman’s 32-year career in the House of Commons included the sensational speech just last year when he called the government’s drug policy an act of “barbaric stupidity” and told MPs they had a responsibility to join him in protest in order to make change.
The Labour MP for Newport West told how he had joined Elizabeth Brice, an MS patient who campaigned under the name Clare Hodges, in “committing a terrible crime on the terrace of this House because I supplied her with a cup of hot water into which she put cannabis and she drank cannabis tea.”
This simple act of taking medicine for a severe illness could have ended in a seven-year jail sentence.
“I would call on people, and I know we’re not supposed to do this as members, to break the law, to come here and use cannabis and challenge the Government and the authorities, to arrest them. That’s the only way to get through to the common mind of the Government, which is set in concrete. The law is evidence free and prejudice-rich.”
Flynn, who suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, first started campaigning for the medicinal use of cannabis in 1999. In 2017 he tabled the the Legalisation of Cannabis (Medicinal Purposes) Bill “to allow the production, supply, possession and use of cannabis and cannabis resin for medicinal purposes; and for connected purposes”. It was partly incorporated by the rescheduling of cannabis medicine in November last year.
He was also vocal about the opioid crisis and the fact that medicinal cannabis was its solution, citing evidence from the US.
He was also known for his opposition to nuclear power and nuclear weapons, and to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. He was suspended from the House in 2012 for accusing the Defence ministerial team, then headed by Philip Hammond, of lying about Afghanistan.
In his 2012 book How to Be an MP, Flynn expressed his disdain for the conservatism of British politics, giving budding politicians some sarcastic advice: “Cultivate the virtues of dullness and safety. Be attuned to the nation’s lowest common denominator of conscience, idealism and cowardice. At all costs avoid any appearance of humour, originality or interest in your speeches.
His campaigning for cannabis medicine, of course, showed how he really felt.