Father voices his concerns over Portsmouth cannabis picnic

Simon Dignam, 41, who helps run Hampshire Cannabis Community. Picture: Sarah Standing (142617-7498)
Simon Dignam, 41, who helps run Hampshire Cannabis Community. Picture: Sarah Standing (142617-7498)

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A FATHER who believes his late son’s mental illness was caused by cannabis has condemned plans for a picnic to promote the drug.

Organisers of the cannabis awareness picnic at Castle Field in Southsea on Saturday say they are highlighting use of the drug for medicinal purposes.

Ben Gregory

Ben Gregory

But Raymond Gregory, 68, whose son Ben (pictured) had psychosis and paranoid schizophrenia and took his own life at the age of 25, says it is ‘irresponsible’.

Mr Gregory, of Havant, said: ‘This whole idea that cannabis is a safe, harmless drug is just nonsense.

‘We know the link between cannabis and schizophrenia. Yes it’s only in a small number of cases but there is a proven link there and it’s the start of the slippery slope.’

He added: ‘I feel the picnic is irresponsible but we live in a society where we have freedom of speech.’

Ben was a talented trombonist but prone to stress when he started using cannabis at the age of 18.

He was later diagnosed with psychosis and paranoid schizophrenia.

He received medication and counselling but took his own life by walking in front of a train at Warblington station on June 8, 2009.

Mr Gregory added: ‘We don’t know what triggered my son’s psychosis but there are a number of known causes and cannabis is one of them.

‘He was failing at music which was very hard for him. Stress was also a known trigger – we don’t know.’

Meanwhile, the picnic’s organiser Simon Dignam, 41, from Havant, said he would not stop people smoking drugs at the event.

He said: ‘If they want to smoke that’s up to them. I’m hoping there won’t be a big police presence because these picnics are quite calm.

‘I went to a Guildford picnic and the police turned up for about three minutes and then left because nothing was happening.

‘I’ve been to about five this year and there’s never been a negative response.

‘We’ve even had families turn up to picnics before as well. It’s not a negative environment.’

Event will be policed by safer neighbourhoods team

HAMPSHIRE police has said safer neighbourhoods team officers will attend the cannabis awareness picnic in Southsea.

The event at Castle Field - the first of its kind in our area - has been organised by Hampshire Cannabis Community to highlight the potential benefits of using the class B drug for medicinal purposes.

Inspector Louise Tester said of the picnic, which is due to be held from 1pm to 6pm: ‘This event is advertised as an awareness event with no suggestion that illegal substances will be used.

‘Safer Neighbourhood officers will be available to advise on the law.

‘While everyone has the right to make a peaceful protest, Hampshire police will not tolerate the use of illegal drugs and any drug use or possession will be dealt with.’