Changing the law on Cannabis

History

The use of Cannabis was prevalent over 200 years ago, primarily being used to relieve pain. It was used for a wide variety of symptoms from toothaches to broken bones. Cannabis was even prescribed to Queen Victoria by her doctor for period pains. However, after the invention of the syringe towards the end of the 19thcentury, the medicinal use of Cannabis was considerably minimised. The syringe allowed drugs to be injected into the body and therefore take immediate effect. This was with medical practitioners preferring to rely upon pharmaceutical drugs. Due to the insoluble properties of Cannabis, it was unable to be injected. This led to the recreational use of the class-B drug. The use of Cannabis was controlled until the Dangerous Drugs Act 1920 came into force, with many believing that Cannabis was a gateway to more dangerous drugs.

 

Where are we now?

Pressure was put on Theresa May recently after two high-profile cases revealed significant findings that Cannabis oil is effective in controlling epileptic seizures. Cannabis oil is an umbrella term for different specific oils that all contain extracts from Cannabis plants. The stories of the medical benefits of Cannabis oil captured the nation and magnified the advancement of laws in other parts of the world, leading to an imminent change in the law in the UK.

The case of Billy Caldwell soared to the top of the news after his mother, Charlotte, flew to Canada to get a new supply of Cannabis for her severely epileptic son, only to have it seized upon her return to the UK. Subsequently, Billy’s health deteriorated, and he was taken to hospital suffering from life threatening seizures. He was granted a limited licence for the drug to be administered in hospitals in the UK.

Similarly, Alfie Dingley, aged 6, has a rare form of illness that causes up to 150 seizures per month. Alfie’s mother, Hannah, urged the Home Secretary to intervene in his case after seeing the conclusion gained by Billy Caldwell.

Cannabis oil has proven to have therapeutic benefits and has improved the lives of some of those living with Multiple Sclerosis, Cancer and other serious conditions. As a result, Cannabis oil is being legalised for medicinal use. It will be available upon prescription from 1stNovember 2018. The Home Office plans to appoint an expert panel to assess patients and the oil will only be prescribed to those with an “exceptional and unmet clinical need” for the drug. This change will bring the legislation in the UK closer to the policies in countries such as Australia, Poland and Turkey.

The Government, however, have warned that other forms of Cannabis will remain illegal. Whilst Canada has recently de-criminalised the use of Cannabis, the UK Government’s position remains clear that there are now plans to decriminalise. The NHS stand position is that regular recreational use of Cannabis increases the risk of psychotic illness, particularly in teenagers, that long term use can affect the ability to learn and concentrate and that about 10% of users become addicted. Possession of the drug will continue to carry a maximum of a 5-year prison sentence, an unlimited fine, or both. Growing and supplying the drug will continue to carry up to a 14-year prison sentence, an unlimited fine, or both.