|The World Through My Specs|
|Peter Reynolds of CLEAR is engaged in a tug-of-war with ex-members of the organization’s Executive Committee|
By Denzil White
Special to Toke of the Town
In suit and tie, Peter Reynolds looks more like an extra from the set of Mad Men than like the hairy-headed hippie stereotype of a cannabis activist. He’s definitely not hairy-headed, but when he promised to clean up the image of cannabis campaigning in the UK, few people expected the makeover to result in a beauty only skin deep.
Claiming a background in advertising and public relations, Peter Reynolds won leadership of the Legalise Cannabis Alliance, a small, single-issue political party, then set about changing the name of the party to CLEAR (Cannabis Law Reform) and brought on help to spruce up the party’s website and logo.
Reynolds wrote at the time, “We will build a new and effective brand and campaign. We are reasonable, responsible, respectable members of society from all walks of life and professions.”
Things were looking good; MPs hit Reynolds’ “Friend” button on Facebook and the CLEAR “Comment Warriors” plagued the popular press with pro-cannabis comments on any article reporting a factory raid or medicinal marijuana critique.
Then the dark side of CLEAR’s own Mad Man began to show. His personal blog was found to contain racist and homophobic remarks. Critics of these received lambasting comments from Reynolds. Suddenly, his offensive blog entries disappeared, and Reynolds called his critics liars and fraudsters despite evidence they provided in screencaps of his deleted entries, many of them, along with some of his flaming comments, preserved here. Criticism spread and MPs began to unfriend Reynolds.
|Peter Reynolds, leader of CLEAR: Cannabis Law Reform, has stood defiant against accusations of racism and homophobia. Is it true that Reynolds is bringing his cause into disrepute?|
The scrap got more personal when Reynolds’ activity on dating sites was publicized. His sexual interests are irrelevant to questions of drug law, but Reynolds himself had made a point of the importance of image. He sought to preserve a clean-cut image: though the cat was out of the bag as more and dirtier screencaps circulated, the original dating profiles disappeared and Reynolds has since claimed that all or most of those profiles were fraudulent. Nevertheless, the damage was done, and MPs continued to hit the defriend button.
Accusations of “fraud” and “lies” constituted the bulk of his answer to critics, but he also answered at least 17 detractors with threats of police action. Many people he threatened used cannabis medicinally, so could be severely harmed by arrest. As far as can be ascertained, Reynolds follows through on some threats and calls police, but the police do not find his reports actionable.
Arguments on the CLEAR forum and Facebook page escalated. Supporters claimed party membership had increased (up to about 700 paid members) and progress had been made under Reynolds’ leadership. Detractors decried his threats to call in the constabulary against people he knew to be vulnerable as cannabis users and growers, as well as his hate speech that created the initial controversy, and claimed that even in the party’s single issue of cannabis law reform there had been no gains: only party site blog articles misinterpreting the new sentencing guidelines (cautions were added after the danger of this misinterpretation was pointed out), criticisms and constant PCC reports on most news items mentioning cannabis, and advertising the agenda of a US corporation which intends to influence UK drug policy with a view to its own profit (a story covered previously on Toke of the Town).
CLEAR contained the flame wars via deleting comments, blocking Facebook users from their wall, and by expelling some members from the party and its private forum for criticizing the leadership.
|Two and half years ago, Reynolds published an article on the fashion industry in which he accused gay people of causing bulimia and “infecting” the fashion industry|
Things came to a head on Friday, March 30. Four members of the CLEAR Executive Committee voted to remove Reynolds from office and call for an election of a new leader plus entire new Executive. This appeared a clean sweep preparing a fresh beginning for the bedeviled party, but in a counter-move, Reynolds declared that none of the four was actually a member of the Executive and engaged in a website shell game.
He moved the CLEAR website, later to move it back again to its original URL, and insisted on his own ongoing leadership, only to call for a vote of confidence in himself days later – a vote which he and his new-formed, hand-picked Executive Committee would control. Calling a recently-resigned Executive member back into service and appointing a new Executive member to join them, Reynolds now runs his own Executive Committee. In control of the treasury and on the books with the Electoral Commission, Reynolds has the upper hand, but the Executive Committee in Exile remained active.
Briefly, a tug-of-war raged over the website. The exiled Executive had control of the site, and published a letter there announcing their removal of Reynolds. Scroll to near the bottom of this page for the Executive’s statement.
Reynolds: “I’m the leader of the party”
Reynolds created an alternate site with a .com instead of .org domain name, then moved back to the .org site, removing evidence of the Executive’s removal of him. The new site was insecure, being on a shared server. At some point, member information was leaked and hundreds of party members received emails informing them of Reynolds’ removal by the Executive and calling for a vote for new leadership.
If all of this seems confusing, it won’t be cleared up by talking with the man at the center of the controversy. I spoke on Sunday, April 1, with Peter Reynolds in an effort to understand what has occurred so far, and what his strategy might be for the future.
P: The Executive Committee is composed of me, I’m the party Leader; Janice Wells, who is the party Treasurer, Mark Palmer, and that is the Executive Committee, among the three of us.
D: Okay. I was sent an email which appears to come from, is it Mark? Let me have a look—Mark Palmer.
P: Yeah. That’s a confidential email which should never have been released. When Mark sent me that email, I had a conversa—I mean, it’s absolutely disgraceful that people have been publishing private correspondence. I’m sure you’d agree.
P: Any reasonable person would. When Mark sent that email, it was because he was being put under a great deal of pressure, and bullied by these people.
D: Well, it seems to have been—
P: I had a conversation with him afterwards—a telephone conversation.
D: Okay, I’m going to—it seems to have been sent to the committee, though.
P: It was. It was, yeah.
D: Okay, so it was—
P: Private correspondence within the Clear, it was private correspondence within the Clear Executive Committee.
D: Okay, I mean, from my—
P: And one of the problems is, is it’s two people on the Executive Committee, have taken it upon themselves, to start discussing the Committee’s business, with other people.
D: Okay, I mean, as far as my understanding; I’m only a first-year student; but part of the modules for this year have been electoral law. And the people who are claiming to be on the Executive Committee, let’s call it the other camp, are stating that that is a resignation letter, and that he did–
P: It was a resignation letter, but I’m the leader of the party, I had a telephone conversation with Mark, and he decided he didn’t want to go ahead with it. Simple as that.
D: When was that conversation?
P: It was the day or the day of the letter. I mean the day or the day after of the email. I mean it’s complete nonsense. You know, Mark did issue or send that email, that’s quite right, but the fact that it’s being published, something you–no offence to you, it’s not your fault, but the fact that it’s being published to you, who is, you know, nothing to do with the committee, is indicative of the way these people are behaving.
D: Well, I mean, it’s part of the interesting side of journalism, in this day and age—
D: Part of what’s interesting in journalism these days, is that there are whistle-blowers. We’ve seen it with other political parties you know, that confidential things, in the interests of the members of the party, are being released.
P: Well, it’s not in anybody’s interest, that a man’s resignation, which he then decides to withdraw, in a very short period of time, should be published all over the internet.
D: It was withdrawn, and there’s records of that?
P: Mark and I had a telephone conversation. When these things are formalised, when we come to have the whole committee meeting, which we do about every two months, Mark and I had a telephone conversation, after he submitted that email, in which we agreed that he would remain on the committee. It’s as simple as that. There’s no ifs or what buts about it. It’s black and white.
D: Okay, the other side of it was; again, I’m looking through the electoral law; it was a majority of Executive members on the Friday, when they had the meeting that made the decision. They made a decision to—
P: They’re not; they’re not members of the Executive Committee.
D: Okay, as far as—I mean, I’ve read through the constitution, and sort of matched it up with the electoral law. They still retain their executive powers, until there is an Executive meeting. And to my knowledge there has not been an Executive meeting.
P: No, that’s not the case at all. No, the CLEAR Constitution is quite explicit: I’m the Leader, I set policy, and I handle the day-to-day running of the party. Two members of the Committee were suspended recently, specifically for taking the business of the Committee–I shouldn’t even be discussing this with you–taking the business of the Committee outside of the Committee. But I’m not going to discuss this with you any further.
You can listen to the entire interview here or read the transcript here. It includes Reynolds’ hallmark accusations of fraud and threats of police action. In fact, shortly following my first release of this interview, I was inducted into the club of those threatened with legal action by Peter Reynolds, who claimed that publication of the interview was a copyright violation.
Having tried to no avail to explain more basics of journalism, I gave up further attempts to get his side of the story, but it can be found in his blogs on the CLEAR website.
Two members of the Executive Committee In Exile replied to my request for comment.
From Sanj Chowdhary:
>Peter is very good at spinning things to make others look like the enemy, and when I opposed his actions over Christmas and New Year, Peter set about spinning things to make me look like the trouble maker, and the one who was acting irrationally. He purposefully sought to keep the executive ignorant of the actual enormity of the problem, and so heads were kept firmly buried. Des Humphrey saw the problems and potential controversy that lay ahead and subsequently handed in his resignation.
CLEAR Cannabis Law Reform Sanj Chowdhary: “Peter is very good at spinning things to make others look like the enemy”So for me personally, whilst the grounds themselves were extremely dodgy, my initial expulsion from CLEAR was legitimate as constitutional procedure had been followed and the executive voted unanimously to have me removed.However, when Mark Palmer handed in his resignation, and Chris [Bovey] and Greg [de Hoedt]tabled a motion of no-confidence in Peter, what happened next was completely unconstitutional and undemocratic: AFTER the motion had been tabled Peter unilaterally decided and announced that Greg had been suspended from the executive and therefore the motion was invalidated; when Chris challenged Peter, Chris found that he too was told he was suspended!! Non of this was constitutionally legitimate, essentially Peter had adopted his own brand of dictatorial rule. ‘The largest ever membership based, democratically run cannabis campaign group,’ had become a dictatorship, and not a benevolent one at that!!It was at that point Des and I were contacted and discussions began regarding what to do. That evening Derek Williams resigned, leaving just Jan and Peter, (and Greg and Chris the suspended exec members). In effect CLEAR had been left without a functioning executive or even a democratic mandate, and so it was decided that Des and I would become members again and be reinstated onto an emergency Committee by Greg and Chris with the sole purpose of actually acting in the members’ best interest and to remove Peter from the leadership and call new elections.You have to remember that we were faced with someone who had no respect for the constitution, who sought to pervert the democratic process and stamp out any sort of opposition to his own agenda or opinions.Peter has brought the campaign into disrepute, and the apologists for him have pointed their fingers at others. Unfortunately Greg, Chris, Des and I were part of the group who had once shamelessly defended Peter but for me the final straw came when I was told that the concerns and principles of cannabis activists should be suppressed for the right of one man to air his objectionable views and opinions. That showed me that Peter didn’t act in the best interest of the members and the cannabis campaign but only in the interest of serving his own ego!
|The Weed Blog|
Chris Bovey’s response corroborates Chowdhary’s version of events, with some emphasis:
All I would add to that is the guy is a nasty bit of work who I wouldn’t trust as far as I could spit. He is a liar and a fool and I have nothing more to say on the matter. Well, just to say, he had lost the entire confidence of the Exec apart from Jan, but since Jan and his name were on the electoral commission, there was nothing we can do about it, and we have better things to do than fight with that megalomaniac. It’s now down to CLEAR members to get rid of him, he has unconstitutionally expelled me from the party. It seems anyone who crosses him gets bullied, threatened and ultimately expelled.
A comment from Alun Buffry at The Weed Blog recalls the transition from LCA to CLEAR, showing that Reynolds’ games with executive membership and website access started at the beginning.
To sum up, the man clinging to leadership of CLEAR appears, despite (unconfirmed) experience in politics and public relations, to have an inconsistent (at best) notion of journalism, interviewing, damage control, image projection, coalition building, transparency, law, fairness, or any of the more-than-skin-deep qualities one might want to find in a campaign leader.
Yet there he clings, and there many uninformed party members support his continued presence.
Sure, he has short hair, a suit and tie, plentiful blogging energy and astonishing tenacity — but do these qualities equal leadership ability?
Many doubt the integrity of a confidence vote controlled by Reynolds and his pet Executive Committee. We may see a mass walkout if members seek an outlet for activism free of dictatorial manipulation, expulsion, censorship, police harassment, racism, homophobia, and misogyny.
Maybe a suit and tie aren’t all that the cannabis campaign in the UK requires.