Jim – who's in his forties and lives in East Anglia, that little bobble jutting out the right-hand-side of the UK – supplies people who need it with high potency cannabis oil and other herbal medicines.
VICE: Hey, you around?
Jim: Yeah – though the kids are on half-term and are a bit of a handful.
What do you sell?
For the past ten years or so, with a small network of colleagues, I've been making and distributing illegal cannabis oils to help people who really need it. But I don't sell it, I give it for free.
At any one time we might have between 150 to 200 patients. There's a core group of maybe 75 who have been with us for years – but we often also help people at the end of their lives. Their families come to us and we just try to help lessen their suffering. So we'll only know them for a few months, or even weeks, before they pass on.
We've got patients from all walks of life, from kids to the elderly, from judges to unemployed people – and their children. We don't discriminate, because everyone deserves the right to medicine. People find us through word of mouth. One person we've helped passes us on to another – sometimes literally between hospital beds.
And, to be clear, you don’t take any money for this? That's not very drug dealer-y of you.
[Laughs] Yeah, it's pretty much the opposite of the usual drug dealer model. This isn't about making money, it's purely about helping people in need. I also have a totally separate legitimate business, which does well enough to finance the underground operation.
I've done a lot of research based on studies coming out of places like Israel and California, so everyone gets tailor-made treatment. I've spent a fair bit on expensive equipment so that people receive the absolute highest quality products, in the correct doses and blends. We follow strict, specific guidelines, and the oils are really the highest quality one can get anywhere in the world.
How did you get into all this?
I was working in palliative care, taking care of people at the end of their lives – and also in-home care for people with life changing conditions. I noticed a lot of the people I was helping were using cannabis for their conditions – but they were buying quite low-quality product from kids on BMX bikes.
I enjoyed smoking cannabis – when you're a kid growing up in the countryside there's not that much else to do. So I just thought, 'I can do this better!' I started growing fairly small amounts at first, maybe ten plants, and it just took off from there. Now we have over a hundred – but we do small grows scattered around. We don't do big industrial grows – that would be too dangerous in terms of potentially getting robbed by gangs. We also encourage people to become self-sufficient and coach them through their own growing process.
How did it turn into a non-profit business?
I learned pretty fast – and from the cannabis work I began to study herbal medicine, so now I make blends of cannabis with other herbs. We're in the countryside, and this stuff comes out of the ground. It might be blending in turmeric for arthritis for the old grannies around the area, or whatever. The natural world provides so much of what we need.
A few years ago there was one young kid we worked with – he'd been given two weeks to live, and his father came to us desperate to ease his pain. We worked with him and he ended up living another three years, but he did eventually pass on – and being at his funeral, seeing this little Minecraft-themed coffin, it really hit hard. I think that was the point it became a really serious thing for me – a mission to make sure that everyone should have access to this medicine. You see people living longer and having a much better quality of life – taking fewer opiate-type drugs and interacting better with their families. It's special.
But on the other hand, I also sometimes get quite frustrated with some people in the cannabis world. I have to explain to them that cannabis isn't a be-all-and-end-all. You can’t save everyone – and sometimes it can be really hard.
Despite the good intentions, in the eyes of the law you're still supplying illicit drugs. Do you worry about the police?
It's almost second nature now to worry about the cops. But without being complacent, I'm actually fairly at peace. I'm not shotting weed on the corner, I'm helping people, and I think there's an awareness of that. We've actually worked with several police officers and their kids, supplying them medicine – from PCs to people quite high up.
Recently, we had an ex-colleague try to report us out of spite – trying to blackmail us. So we sat down with our solicitor and worked through our defence, just in case. I think I've got a strong set of statements and witnesses. I would be ready to go through a trial, to present our case to the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and a jury – they're people too, remember – and ask if they think I'm guilty.
Do you deal any other drugs?
No. I'm interested in psilocybin and have done some micro-dosing for anxiety, but in terms of pills and powders or whatever, that's not for me. When I was young I used to sell cannabis, and I've seen how the whole county lines thing has grown. Most of the countryside dealers I know can't be doing with all that – it's too much hassle.
Being in this business, you're always at the edges of that kind of criminal underworld. There are a few old school villains I know, proper gangsters from up north, who donate the odd box of weed to us and say, "Here you go – this is for helping the kids." We're no competition to them, and they know what we're doing is right.
Do you see yourself doing this forever?
I can't see myself doing anything else. Mainly because it spins my mum's head around. She used to be putting Daily Mail articles in my hand about how bad cannabis is, now she's reading articles about how it’s helping people!
We've had people from hospitals and major medical cannabis companies come down and talk to us, because essentially we've been conducting a decade-long drug trial, and have generated all this unique data. My only regret is not having been able to gather all this in a strict enough way to be accepted by a wider scientific community. If we'd had the understanding, we could have run some very specific studies. Some doctors have now given me data recording sheets, and I've been trying to adapt various charts to help people gain a more comprehensive understanding of pain management.
There's a lot of work to be done. I have to switch off the news sometimes – I see stories about sick kids and I know that, given the tools and the ability to operate in the system, I could help them. But we have big plans to expand, and to get even more accurate and knowledgeable about how to measure and tailor treatments for specific patients – all for no money. It would be ideal if there was a change in the law, but we're going to keep helping people no matter what. There’s a lot of forward thinking people out there, and this world is expanding!