Editorial: The Evolution of Advocacy

by Ant Lehane


Entering the drug reform space four years ago was a shock to the system. Despite years of working with the most complex and vulnerable populations in the UK, nothing had prepared me for the pure terror of a live TV interview on the BBC, or standing in front of hundreds of academics, thought leaders and politicians with the weight of having to say something insightful to capture their attention.

Thankfully since day one I was surrounded by some of the most thought provoking, kind and welcoming humans, many of whom are now close friends. Volteface has always been a place for those who don’t quite fit into ‘the norm’. A collection of reformers and mavericks who want to do things differently, are not afraid to rock the boat, and believe that this space needed something different, instead of the same old tried and tested calls for change.

The values and ethos of the organisation have, and always will set us apart. The desire to challenge others and find new voices, a positive rather than combative approach to those with the power to change the law, and fundamentally a willingness to adapt as the landscape for reform shifts beneath us.

In four years of Volteface I have experienced this flux and witnessed the dynamic of reform change. I have spent hours with Volteface colleagues over the years discussing these shifts and debating how we should adapt. From our early days as a blog and print paper, to a vehicle which produced countless impactful reports, to a campaigning organisation and more recently a body which positively and appropriately engages the cannabis industry without losing its core values of advocacy, Volteface has and will always evolve.

The doors of number 18 Hanway Street have seen many faces come and go over the years, and the baton of responsibility for Volteface has gone through numerous hands. Six weeks ago I found myself being the only holder, in probably the most complex political and social time I can remember. 

Thankfully, despite being a northern lad who took a chance and moved to London, I have always been inspired to develop, perform and achieve – especially when the end result involves a reduction in drug related harm. To me there is no greater privilege. It is with pride, determination and positivity I will lead the team forward.

The history and background feels relevant in laying out what is next for Volteface. We don’t change our focus on a whim, and the path I take us on has been discussed for more hours than I can imagine, from meeting room, to Bradley’s Spanish Bar, to Zoom call and Slack channel.

At Volteface we recognise that the relationship between government, wider society and the media is complex, and to create reform you must innovate. The days of solely meeting politicians and writing reports to make a splash are gone, and in its place is an approach that spans government, media platforms, industry and global networks. In many ways our adaptation has been fluid, but in essence today is the first time we publicly recognise this transformation, and spell out what that means for our platform. Below are the four most significant changes along with a brief explanation as to what it entails. 

European expertise with a global reach

Volteface will now be connected to key people across Europe, and we will be using our platform to celebrate European achievements and bring attention to key micro-catalysts of reform. As an organisation Volteface will be working at a local, national and international governance level across all of Europe.

As part of our new European focus, today we launched the European Cannabis Advocacy Network (ECAN), a platform to better connect those who are working to liberalise cannabis laws across the continent. This platform is free to use and is in place to create a European wide community of advocates and reformers. 

We have big plans for this network and the response has been fantastic. Our mission is to share best practice, developments and ideas across Europe through open, positive and collaborative communication. 

The network holds its first membership meeting this month and will soon be holding free to attend events to educate others on European developments. 

We focus on all areas of cannabis reform (not just recreational)

Since medical cannabis was legalised in 2018 Volteface focused solely on adult recreational cannabis use. In some ways this was helpful but in others it has held us back, particularly when discussing nuances of the plant. To be blunt, we are also exceptionally frustrated with the difficulty an estimated 1.4 million people in the UK have in accessing cannabis based medicines, and will do something about it. 

From today Volteface will be interested and engaged with cannabis as a plant regardless of the way in which it is used; from CBD to medical cannabis to adult use recreational. 

Thought Leadership 

We will continually identify key thought leadership streams to help advance the dial on cannabis reform. These campaigns will run throughout the year and bring together key stakeholders from the media, politics, industry and advocacy.

Our current thought leadership campaigns are on our website, for more information about how you can get involved, drop me an email at paul@volteface.me

Evolution of content

The way in which our audience digest information is changing due to the current social climate and advances in technology. The tried and tested formula of writing reports and releasing them to the media and politicians is useful, but nowhere near enough to speed up reform.

Volteface will be providing innovative, engaging and new content throughout the year to keep you updated on global drug reform. We will continue to be a platform to share new ideas, voices and arguments. Expect more multimedia content and a whole heap of documentaries, podcasts, interviews and news stories in 2021.

There will always be challenges ahead for Volteface, and I am sure the work we do will continue to challenge those who want to keep the status quo (both in the advocacy space and out). The foundations laid by those before us have built Volteface for the future, both in terms of our ethos and knowledge. These foundations are set perfectly for the next chapter, and we could not be prouder to take it forward.

We hope you will join us on this journey, and help to prevent millions of people from being needlessly criminalised in the decades to come.

Paul North

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