Gary Youds, a 53-year-old Liverpool-based businessman and father of two has been sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty to drug offences. So far, so daily news. But this is no ordinary case of drug trafficking.
Youds, who has been described as “heroic” and “philanthropic” by friends, family and the wider community, was apprehended by police on his way to deliver homemade, full-extract cannabis oil (FECO) to a terminally-ill cancer patient near Birmingham - for free. The police later raided his home, where he was found to be in possession of a “quantity of cannabis with a street value of up to £7,000.” The contraband was found in a grow of six "very large and well-maintained" cannabis plants, 40 1ml plastic syringes of cannabis oil, two spliffs, a tobacco pouch containing around 6g of cannabis resin and £100 in cash.
In a recent police interview, Youds, who has been arrested around fifty times for cannabis activism-related activities, stated that he is "saving the city by producing the fruits of the earth for the people”. He’s demonstrated this sentiment over the years, by setting up Liverpool’s first unofficial not-for-profit cannabis coffee shop, not unlike those famous in Amsterdam. His vision, he says, is to create a “safe, loving community,” and to rid his city of the devastation caused by alcohol, violence and the illegal selling and use of class-A drugs.
Youds’ brother-in-law, Alan Long, says “Gary should have a medal for what he’s doing for the community, not be locked up. He’s provided a secure, safe place in the most run down part of the city, where people can come in and self medicate with their own cannabis. And he’s given vital medicine to terminally ill patients for free. He wouldn’t even take his train fare from them. ”
Long continues “[Gary] suffers from arthritis himself, and PTSD from the times the police have kicked his door down and taken his kids away from him. Ironically, those are both conditions you can get a legal cannabis prescription for, if you can afford it.”
But Alan feels that, even if you can pay for a cannabis prescription, the level of quality of products available on the legal market is nowhere near good enough - a sentiment echoed by many legal patients.
“You can’t get this quality from the legal cannabis industry - the oil they give patients is absolutely diabolical. It's watered down with MCT oil. It's disgusting. That’s why Gary makes his own - because we need the medicine and it's not available to us. He’s helping the whole community”
Altruistic or not, the judge overseeing Gary’s case in court decided that, despite not charging for his services to the terminally-ill, he must be profiting from his ‘Purple Haze’ cannabis grow and illegal cannabis ventures. This ruling has caused enormous unrest across the UK cannabis community, which includes approximately 1.8 million people who access cannabis illicitly for health purposes.
Drug law activist, writer and host of the Simpa Life podcast, Simpa Carter is one such member of the community who has been organising support for Gary and the wider cannabis movement since the sentencing last week.
“This is a classist war and Gary is emblematic of that. Liverpool is the epicentre of the drug war we’re all losing,"says Carter.
“We want decriminalisation so we can get together in clubs just like Gary’s cafe, as they already do in Spain and Malta. We want to bring our plants grown with love and care at home and trade them among ourselves. It’s such a farce that millions have been made in the lawful cannabis space while we're still living every day under the fear of that blue light or the sound of a siren.”
While Gary and many others are facing serious jail time for their hand in peer-to-peer cannabis exchange, millions of pounds are being floated on the stock market as part of an already blooming industry in the UK. Nearly 90,000 patients now receive a private cannabis prescription for conditions ranging from anxiety to Tourettes and, according to a new report put together by Prohibition Partners, the global sales of cannabis-derived CBD, medical and adult-use cannabis in 2022 amounted to US$45 billion. By 2026, it’s expected to reach an astronomical US$101 billion. This presents us with glaring disparity and a law that appears to be designed to deliver the persecution of innocent people, rather than justice.
The UK is faced with a California-style situation where passionate “legacy growers” like Gary are being pushed out of the market by corporations and legislation before it’s fully taken off.
Due to the stagnation in UK drug laws, the type of search that put Youds in prison is pretty common. In 2020, 63% of stop and searches were conducted to find drugs across the UK. Over 80% of those stop and searches were on suspicion of possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use. This has been shown to distract from handling serious crime. One example where this was proven was during a pilot in Lambeth, London where the Met police were instructed to not arrest people for simple possession of cannabis over 12 months. As a result, the police ended up concentrating on more important and serious offences instead.
Gary’s sister, Paula Youds, has described the situation as “malicious” and has now set up a GoFundMe page to try and raise the thousands of pounds needed for an appeal and legal costs. But she hasn’t much hope of reaching the amount they need.
“The cannabis community has rallied together in support of Gary, and the cause his sentence highlights. I’ve had people reaching out from Brazil and Germany and all across the UK wanting to help. It's so wrong that the government allows money to be made from private cannabis prescriptions, yet my brother’s give three years in prison for supplying oil to a dying man. No-one should be criminalised for a plant, let alone for helping people.”
Gary is serving his time in a Category B prison, alongside criminals sentenced for violence or threat to life, arson, firearms, drugs, sexual offence and robbery.
Carly Barton, founder of medical cannabis organisation Cancard, said of Youds’ arrest “We see police allowing patients to possess their medicine without issue every day. It's about time we found a way to acknowledge that for those who cannot obtain a private prescription, there’s often a knowledgeable and compassionate caregiver like Gary involved in their supply. We must learn to interpret the law while factoring in intention and character, at least until the Drugs Act is reviewed and rightfully rewritten.”
While people like Gary are currently punished rather than awarded for their cannabis expertise in the UK, medical and agricultural professionals in other areas of the world are learning from them. Dr Dani Gordon, world-leading expert in cannabis medicine and vice chair of the Medical Cannabis Clinicians Society expressed her appreciation for these often unrecognised skills, saying: “The first person I unofficially learned about dosing cannabis oils from was the self-taught herbalist my patients in [Canada] were getting their oils from. He was kind enough to meet me and explain what he did for them.”
De-facto decriminalisation of cannabis is being toyed with in parts of the UK, with diversion schemes in place where people found in possession of cannabis are sent for counselling rather than being charged. However, reports have revealed that people found with cannabis in parts of the UK with high levels of deprivation were up to five times more likely to be charged with possession than those in wealthy areas, where charges happen in one out of ten cases. The cannabis community is demanding definitive action to fully decriminalise cannabis to protect patients and their caregivers.
According to his family and friends, Gary feels everyone has the right to be proud of their ability to grow cannabis well and make high quality oils, and be given the chance to openly share and trade their produce to rebuild broken communities. His actions, while illegal, clearly reflect this.
“Gary put the ‘G’ in Gentleman. He’s a good man.” says his brother, Alan, “He believes in paying growers fair wages and seeing single mothers able to pay their bills; In peace, and freedom. And in eradicating human trafficking and gang crime, which only happens as a direct result of the illegal market our government has created.”