By Claire Duffin for The Daily Mail
Pictured: Mother Charlotte Cauldwell with son Billy
It was a mother’s emotional appeal to get cannabis for her sick son that sparked a national debate on the legalisation of the drug.
Few could fail to be moved by Charlotte Caldwell’s desperate pleas to be allowed to give her epileptic son Billy, then 12, cannabis oil to help control his seizures after her supply was seized by customs officials at Heathrow in June.
Just four days later, her worst fears were realised when, without his medication, Billy suffered a life-threatening fit and was taken to London’s Chelsea and Westminster Hospital where Miss Caldwell condemned his ‘callous treatment’ at the hands of the law.
Billy’s story sparked outrage and within hours, the Home Office had granted a 20-day licence for the use of the banned substance and the Government announced a review of the current laws.
But it later emerged Miss Caldwell was linked to a web of drugs manufacturers and cannabis pressure groups who all want to see the laws on the drug relaxed across the board, not just for medicinal purposes.
Her campaign was also being bankrolled by a multi-millionaire businessman who is intent on seeing marijuana fully legalised in the UK, the Daily Mail discovered.
Their affiliation raise troubling questions about whether Miss Caldwell – and Billy – had unwittingly been taken advantage of by those who seek to change the law on cannabis.
The medicinal cannabis industry is staggeringly lucrative, so much so that in California it is being compared to the Gold Rush. Many children have travelled abroad for the treatment.
But it is seen by many to be a Trojan horse in the battle to legalise cannabis for recreational purposes as well.
Miss Caldwell’s campaign was being funded by Paul Birch, the British tech tycoon who founded the Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol (CISTA) political party.
Her 52-year-old backer Mr Birch, who has admitted consuming cannabis since he was 23, campaigned ahead of the 2015 general election for the legislation of recreational marijuana in Britain.
He is also the founder of UK think-tank Volteface, which has called for the legalisation of medicinal and recreational cannabis in this country, and which also supported Miss Caldwell with her campaign.
It also emerged that Miss Caldwell was supplied with cannabis oil by Tilray, a Canadian company with close links to Volteface.
Tilray, which the same month announced plans for a $100million (£76million) float on an American stock exchange, is owned by Privateer Holdings – a private equity firm whose other companies sell cannabis products for legal recreational use in the United States.
And Privateer Holdings funded a trip to Seattle for Labour MP Jeff Smith and Tory MP Crispin Blunt, both of whom have been instrumental in driving the legalisation Bill through the Commons.
Mr Blunt and Mr Smith both put their name to a Private Members’ Bill, which was introduced last year by Labour’s Paul Flynn, calling for the production, supply, possession and use of cannabis and cannabis resin to be allowed for medicinal purposes.
It was due to have its second reading in October.
Miss Caldwell had also set up her own business to sell bottles of legal cannabis oil – named Billy’s Bud after her son – and registered a second company offering what she refers to as ‘medical products’ to raise money for him.
Furthermore, she conceded her decision to bring the cannabis oil into this country – sparking the tearful scenes at the airport – was in fact part of a well-orchestrated strategy to change Britain’s laws on cannabis.
‘It was a stand I was making,’ she said. ‘What I wanted to happen was they [the Custom Officers] would let us through with the medicine and that would have been the UK Government recognising this cannabis has medicinal purposes.’
Miss Caldwell, from County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, insisted she has not made a fortune through her firm Billy’s Bud.
She said her battle had ‘nothing to do with recreational cannabis use’ and its legalisation.
But she admitted there may be those in the industry who ‘see a good story’ and want to ‘jump on the bandwagon’.
Yesterday, perhaps not surprisingly, her powerful backers were among the first to offer their congratulations, after Home Secretary Sajid Javid announced medicinal cannabis would be made available on prescription.
On Twitter, Volteface thanked Mr Birch for his ‘visionary philanthropy’ which ‘provided the resources to make this possible’.
Miss Caldwell said she was ‘beyond delighted’ at the announcement, which came on Billy’s 13th birthday, but said she now wanted to see responsibility for cannabis passed from the Home Office to the Department of Health.
‘It’s been an eternity and the click of the fingers at the same time,’ she said.