Cannabis growing in Newport, South Wales (Photo via)
Historically, British cannabis campaigners haven’t had a lot of luck when it comes to the battle for legalisation. For whatever reason, politicians don’t seem to pay much attention to the thousands of stoner activists who gather in Hyde Park every year to get high in the rain, and all the other protests and petitions – often organised by different groups throughout the country – have mostly been too small to even generate any media interest, let alone bring about meaningful change.
However, since other places – notably Uruguay and the couple of newly weed-friendly American states – started decriminalising and legalising, British activists have stepped it up, uniting previously fractured groups together under the UK Cannabis Social Clubs banner. The most recent action to come out of the UKCSC camp is an initiative called Feed the Birds, which basically involves people up and down the country planting cannabis seeds in public places in the hope that it will open a dialogue about Britain's current marijuana laws.
Last week I met up with “Finn”, who fronts Feed the Birds, outside Embankment tube station. We walked along the Thames while he planted more seeds and explained the reasoning behind the campaign.
VICE: Hey Finn. So what exactly is Feed the Birds?
Finn: It’s a collective of like-minded individuals who think that this a good way of raising conversation and awareness around prohibition and the current laws. By planting these seeds in public, we’re really showing the public first-hand that the laws have failed. We're also creating a nationwide peaceful guerrilla protest that can run 24/7. Also, there are an awful lot of protest groups out there, but there isn't one group that covers all the areas [of cannabis use], such as recreational, medicinal and the sustainable industry surrounding hemp and cannabis. Feed the Birds gives everyone a platform so we can all work together for the same cause
How are you hoping the campaign will help to change the cannabis laws?
By raising the debate, showing people it can grow publicly in Britain – and very easily; the UK has a fantastic climate for weed to grow. It also gives people who have a lot to say the chance to get out there and take a physical role in protesting the laws, instead of sitting behind a computer screen preaching on sites like Facebook. We also want to create a go-to place for easy access to factual, scientific information about hemp and cannabis, which is really important, as people need to understand and be educated on the matter to make the right choices.
Every plant on the walk from Embankment to London Bridge had been pulled, so Finn started planting more
And what are the benefits of giving these people seeds?
By giving people seeds, we’re giving them a bit of freedom. From medicinal to recreational, users are very much dependent on the black market. By giving them seeds, within three months they should be completely independent, therefore they shouldn’t have to turn to street dealers. I think that’s the responsible attitude to have.
Who’s participating in Feed the Birds?
People who are heavily involved are the cannabis clubs in the UK. We’re also aware of lone cells doing it – people who were doing it long before Feed the Birds came about and have now joined us. We get a variety of different participants; from gardeners to bankers to barristers, there are an awful amount of people who are actively interested in helping.
Another plant along the Thames
How can new people get involved?
There are many ways you can participate – maybe something as small as sharing our Facebook posts, to even contacting us or your local cannabis club to get some hemp seeds and start planting them around your local town.
What seeds are you using?
We're only using cannabis seeds – we had our hemp shipment postponed for "unknown" reasons. We’ve been giving out specific strains for specific regions. For example, in Scotland we’d give them a strain that would do well against cold and mould, and with a shorter flowering period. That’s also why the seeds were shipped north a little later than they were in the south – the seasons are delayed by a week or two – or three – sometimes. There are a lot things you have to accommodate for.
These plants reached a healthy size before being pulled
Which strains have you been handing out?
We've been giving out three landrace strains: a Jamaican one, Nanda Devi – which is Indian – and another from the Himalayas. Medicinal users have been getting all sorts of auto-feminised seeds. A lot of the seeds that have been given out have an ancestry based in the UK; most originally come from within the M25 corridor, so they're locally sourced and organic.
Why are the medicinal users given autos?
Because they’re a lot less effort to deal with. If someone who needs some medicinal cannabis is struggling to get started, this way they can plant it and the plant will do most of the work. Working with an easier variety will give them a firm grasp on how to grow that plant.
Seeds donated by a supporter of Feed the Birds, including White Widow, Dutch Passion, Weird Sleeve, Smelly Berry and Black Sugar.
Right. Is Feed the Birds funded in any way? Or is it just run with the help of the UK cannabis community?
We need more funding – we don’t have any funding at all. The only capital we’ve been able generate is from selling T-shirts on a Kickstarter page. So we’re self-funded. The activists fund it themselves, which is fantastic for many reasons, and most of our seeds come via donations.
How many seeds do you reckon you’ve given out so far?
Millions? Honestly, I couldn’t give you a true figure.
Have you had much opposition?
Not really. The police haven’t launched anything negative against us. I think they’re probably under too many time constraints to focus on people growing these plants in public, but a lot of the plants have been pulled.
A weed plant sprouting on a busy London street
Any idea who's been doing that?
It could be anybody – the public, the police or someone actively hunting down our plants – but we haven’t actually witnessed people pulling the plants out first-hand.
Have you seen many people interact with the plants in other ways?
Yeah, we’ve seen people going up to the plants and recognising them straight away, which always brings a smile to their face. We were all a bit more serious while planting them, but it seems to mostly be making people laugh. Quite simply, it must strike them as absolutely ridiculous that the current laws are actually failing right in front of their very eyes.
Cannabis growing in central London
Are there any planting spots you're focusing on in London?
Yup, there are. All sorts of public spaces have been done already, all across London and the UK. I think in the month to come, when the plants start maturing, we’ll start seeing a lot more coverage. Also, to my knowledge, we’ve had a lot of the guerrilla cells targeting politicians' houses. We’ve also had reports that there’s a grow on property owned by the crown. Hopefully we’ll see something come from that in the next couple of months.
Where do you see Feed the Birds going in the next year or so?
Ideally, I'd like there to be a really high functioning website that will produce a lot of information to teach people a little more about the positive aspects of re-introducing hemp into the environment. I’d like it to become more of a political discussion. I see this moving forwards by effectively captivating the politicians' imaginations in terms of what the industry could possibly become. The hemp industry was huge in Britain and it seems that the argument [for its legalisation] does touch on many different political subjects, such as the economy, the environment, communities and medicine. They’re all very important topics and really should be addressed.
As far as Feed the Birds goes, I think as soon as prohibition comes to an end, we’ll quietly merge into the background and get back on with our normal lives. As soon as the medicinal users and recreational users are no longer persecuted for wanting to have an alternative to alcohol or pharmaceutical drugs, we’d know that we’d done our job properly in informing and introducing the public and the government to the benefits of hemp and cannabis.
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Since weed was legalised in Colorado and Washington it’s been hailed by many for both its palliative and curative effects, and a study we conducted earlier this year illustrated how a tax and regulate policy on cannabis could produce a net benefit to the UK economy of £6.7 billion per annum.
While Feed the Birds might still be in its early stages, any action that could eventually help reform cannabis laws in the UK – making the country a ton of money and potentially helping to ease the suffering of the sick – is surely a good thing. If you want to get involved yourself, you can get in touch through the Feed the Birds Facebook page.
EDIT: An earlier version of this article stated that the top image was of a plant in Tower Hill, when in fact it was taken in Newport, South Wales.
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