Hot on the heels of Sadiq Khan and Zac Goldsmith to be crowned Mayor of London is our own local veteran campaigner for the regulation of cannabis, Lee Harris. At 79, Harris (pic above) is a familiar face around Portobello having owned the head shop Alchemy on Portobello Road for 45 years.
Harris is the Cannabis Is Safer Than Alcohol (CISTA) party candidate, the first professional group to push to legalise the drug. CISTA is being backed by money from multi-millionaire founder of social networking site Bebo, Michael Birch. “He’s a great benefactor,” says Harris, “He is doing a proper campaign.”
Almost 50 years ago Harris was part of one of the first legalise cannabis gatherings, the 1967 Legalise Pot Rally in Hyde Park. Prime minister of the time James Callaghan was against it. “You wouldn’t think I’d have to wait 50 years and things are still the same. I mean they ban everything,” argues the softly spoken Harris.
South African-born Harris was working in a clothing factory as tailor and cutter in Johannesburg’s Coolie Town by the time he was 18. After joining a discussion club the morally aware Harris was soon campaigning against apartheid and was in meetings with ANC leaders Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo. The ANC was then a movement of passive resistance.
“I learnt in South Africa that you can fight unjust laws,” explains Harris of his efforts to legalise cannabis, “I am calling for regulation, control and tax. At the moment there’s no quality control, if it’s legalised at least there will be quality control. Harm reduction is important, legalised cannabis would be better regulated than it is now [because at the moment is it is just supplied, sometimes with impurities] by the dealers, especially skunk.” (Skunk is a name often used for cannabis, but skunk cannabis is a much more potent form of the drug with two to three times the main active ingredient – tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC).
It’s been a year since Colorado became the first state in the US to legalise marijuana, and its impact on health, crime, employment and other factors has shown little change according to the police there. Harris says: “Durham is the Colorado of England. Police there have been told to turn a blind eye. Sometimes you realise you can change lives and here would be a good place to start. London is a great place, it’s a great libertarian city.”