Tony Bevington has lived an extraordinary life, from serving as a paramedic in London to living on remote pacific islands. After returning back to his native UK due to ill health, he turned to cannabis for relief and found himself fighting the law. We sat down with him to find out more about the man, his incredible journey so far and his thoughts on medical cannabis in the UK.
Hi Tony, can you tell our readers a little bit about your amazing life so far?
I’ve had a great life! I’ve been very lucky. I was a paramedic for 10 years in London because I like working with people and helping them. I was a driving instructor for a couple of years, until it drove me crazy. I then bought a farm in Cornwall and was self-sufficient for 20 years with my family.
In 1987 my wife died and I couldn’t hack it, so I took off and went across Canada and America for a year or so. I socialised with a lot of people and had a wonderful time. I then came back to the UK and I was bored to tears so I signed up with voluntary services overseas. I went to Papa New Guinea for two years and I loved it, I absolutely loved it, and I made that my new career.
My job was setting up farms for kids in remote regions to improve their diets. Nothing very expensive or terribly technical. It was all low-cost stuff. I went to Botswana for 7 years, then went to an island in Micronesia called Pohnpei, a tiny little place, with only a hundred feet of rain a year and rarely dropping below 40 degrees C.
I came back to England briefly before spending another 12 years in Papa New Guinea, and here I am! 81 years old, retired and a cannabis activist!
Tell us more about your job setting up farms and schools in Africa and the Pacific
The school I worked at in Botswana was 400 miles away from a shop. We were in the heart of the Okavango Delta which was 75 miles by boat. So if we didn’t grow it or kill it – we didn’t eat. They gave me 10 acres of bush and I turned it into a productive unit.
I grew spinach, cabbage, carrots, potatoes, sweetcorn, which was the staple diet out there. We also had chickens, we lost a few to pythons until I caught the python and killed it!
You’ve written a book called My Wings of Destiny, could you tell us about that?
I’m just trying to show that whatever happens in life, you can bounce back.
Losing my wife was a hell of a terrible time, I actually switched the life support machine off, so it was a very traumatic experience for me. But, I’ve had a great life, and I wanted to get across to people what I had learned from my travels.
I was living with people who were very different from what I had experienced here in Cornwall, and it made me realize that we shouldn’t be judgemental about people just because they live differently and eat differently, it doesn’t make them wrong and us right.
That’s what my book is about. It’s just me unloading myself and the things I suffered – because I did suffer, but I also had a ball! I think you need to be able to be strong in yourself, to get away from the terrible things that happen because it happens to all of us one way or another, we’re all going to have something pretty unpleasant happen in our lives, and you need to be strong about that.
You’re well known in the cannabis community for growing your own plants, how did that come about?
Well, I’d grown it on my farm in Cornwall in 1978 and got caught eventually. I got a £120 fine and a smack on the wrist and that was it! I had a friend come and live with me who had been living and growing in Morrocco. He turned to me and said, why don’t we grow in that big greenhouse that’s empty? I’m a bit of a devil so I said: why not?
I didn’t realise what I was letting myself in for, but I smoked it with him and my wife and neither of us suffered any adverse effects so we realised that there was probably a bit of a lie and deceit going on here. That remained with me until 2018 when I was diagnosed with terminal kidney failure. I decided I’d take a better look at the medical side of cannabis as I hadn’t really explored it very much in the ’70s.
The whole situation with cannabis has changed, it’s really progressing forwards. Now the medical side has come out and research is being done around the world, the powers that be are going to have to review how they see this situation. They can’t keep saying “it’s dangerous, it destroys communities and damages people” because everybody knows different now.
I’m a great advocate, I don’t necessarily see it as a wonder drug but I think it’s a tool in the armoury and having been really messed around by GPs and hospitals I do tend to have a really rather negative view of pharma and medicine, and I’m pushing myself to have more and more natural medicines all the time.
Is it difficult for you to obtain cannabis on the black market to help with your ailments?
You’re joking! Cannabis is the easiest thing to buy in this country. Anywhere you go now you can buy it, but I’d prefer not to get arrested again, I’ve got a two year suspended sentence hanging over me.
My legal medicines are what I use now, and they’re fine. I think it’s unfair and unjust that people who don’t have money can’t get it legally, and people who have little money can – morally that is repugnant to me.
What is it like living with that two year suspended sentence?
I hardly know it’s there. I have very little respect for those in authority because of all the crap they give out to us. I think if you’re going to respect the law, the law needs to be honest and I don’t believe the law is honest. The policeman that arrested me, when I told him it was my medicine he said “I don’t care”, and we can’t have people like that around, it’s denying what is going on.
I have been saying to the minister of justice for a long time, and being ignored of course, that the scientific balance about cannabis and the legal balance about cannabis is completely out of line with each other. I got convicted on the fact that cannabis is not a medicine, but it is!
So the law is saying it isn’t medicine and the science is saying it is. We’ve got to balance things up because it’s a huge injustice. And the government don’t care that it’s an injustice because they’re making money, but it’s got to change. I think people need to stand up, and at 80 years old what have I got to lose? Two years in prison maybe, it might be an interesting experience – another book to write!
Do you have to go on probation?
I had an interview with a probation officer who was possibly 50 years younger than me and, what could he say?! I said “look, I’ve got a legal prescription” what could he say at that point in time? So he just recommended something to the judge. I think they didn’t really know what to do with me, an 80-year old man who’s trying to fight them and they didn’t want to have a martyr in me, so they were very careful about how they handled me, which of course is wrong, it shouldn’t be like that!
Are you still consuming medicinal cannabis now?
I’ve got a prescription through DrugScience. I’ve been with them for 6 or 8 months now, and I have 12.5% THC 25% CBD oil.
What would you say to the people who say you can get CBD oil from places like Holland and Barrett?
It’s not the real thing! It may be CBD the way the government regulates it, but there’s no THC in it. I’m a great believer in the full spectrum effect. If you don’t have some THC with it you’re not going to get homeostasis acting properly, so that’s my reason for looking at THC.
It’s interesting because the government are demonising THC, but they shouldn’t because technically they’re wrong. THC is an essential ingredient in the plant. If they were making aspirin from the plant and they were omitting some of the essential ingredients it wouldn’t work, and that’s what they’re trying to do to cannabis. And I know why they’re trying to do it, they want to give big pharma a head start.
How do you think that campaign to legalise/decriminalise cannabis is going in the UK?
There are two or three really amazing people at the moment: Guy from Seed Our Future, Phil from We the Undersigned and a guy I know very little about, but seems to be doing quite well is Outlaw.
I think at this moment in time the campaign to legalise/decriminalise cannabis has hit a bit of a barrier, it seems to be stagnant.
We’re being ignored by the home office, the press won’t talk about it.I’m not sure why that is but I assume it’s because the people high up have said “we don’t want to hear about that” so it’s very quiet at the moment on that front and has been for a long time.
Do you think the public perception of cannabis has changed much now from when you were younger?
I have seen a shift. But there are still the brainwashed indoctrinated ones who just don’t seem to learn. The number of people who seem surprised when I tell them I have legal medical cannabis – so it’s been kept quiet still. I just think we need to be a bit more active, if Extinction Rebellion can do it, why the hell can’t we?
What would you say to the people who think that cannabis is a gateway drug?
No, it isn’t and it’s proven. Alcohol is a gateway drug and here we are with a government that legalises tobacco and alcohol but won’t legalise cannabis, which to me seems rather hypocritical.
How would you say that cannabis has helped your symptoms?
I don’t have any symptoms with cannabis.
I know when I need to take some medicine, I get a little bit of pain in my kidney and think I’ve got to eat and I’ve got to take my meds.
I’ve thrown away 90% of my pharmaceutical medicines. I threw away my blood pressure tablets. This is interesting because blood pressure and kidney disease go hand in hand. If your blood pressure is high then your kidneys suffer. But my blood pressure is virtually normal when I am just on cannabis.
What was it like going through the arrest and court process?
Terrifying! I was shaking like hell, I was absolutely terrified, it’s frightening. I was very naive and thought that if I told them that it was only grown for my medicine they would let me get off lightly. I was really upset to find that wasn’t the case. I felt like the law wasn’t actually taking into account my extenuating circumstances and my story. I just thought that this is too dogmatic it’s not flexible enough.
But at the same time, I couldn’t help but be honest with them. So both times they arrested me I told them “yes I’m growing” because I can’t really be any different with them.
How do you think the government will treat the cannabis industry if it’s ever legalised?
My experience with the government, from activist work that I have done, is that they are very crafty. They allow us to have something that is nearly the same but it suits the government more than it does us.
I am personally in favour of rescheduling. Where it’s legal and people can grow a certain amount for themselves and it’s no longer a controlled drug.
The question I would like to ask, and I intend to under freedom of information is, what is the biological organic difference between the plants I grew and the plants that GW pharmaceuticals grow? Because mine are organic, I use no sprays, they are purely organic, grown in soil. It makes me laugh, the number of posts you see from the police on Facebook saying, “we’ve got another hydroponic grow here!” and I look at it and think, that’s not hydroponic? They just don’t seem to know what they’re talking about. They called mine a hydroponic grow and it was all in the soil!
Tony’s book My Wings of Destiny is available to purchase on Amazon