Cannabis should be legalised for medical use, a Westminster cross-party group has urged.
Baroness Meacher, chairman of the group of MPs and peers who conducted a major inquiry into the issue, claimed the refusal to recognise the drug’s medicinal value is “irrational” while Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas branded it “unacceptable” that people using cannabis to treat conditions risk prosecution.
Currently, cannabis use for medical reasons is illegal across the UK. One cannabis-based product – Sativex, manufactured by GW Pharmaceuticals – has been classified separately to the drug, and can be legally prescribed and supplied in limited circumstances. However, it is not generally available on the NHS.
The Scottish Drugs Forum welcomed the news, saying that “compassion and a human rights perspective” demands that the issue should be considered by the government.
David Liddell, the Forum’s chief executive, said: “Drugs are an emotive issue. For this and for other, historical reasons, our drugs laws are not wholly based on evidence or in reason. In this sense they are a cultural rather than scientific artefact. It is unfortunate that any medicinal benefits of a substance like cannabis cannot be researched properly without raising controversy.
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“Ironically, proper research may not only show medical benefits but means by which the benefit can be derived without associated intoxication. Pain and symptomatic relief are of enormous benefit to patients with chronic conditions.”
In Scotland, even Sativex is not approved by the Scottish Medicines Consortium, which claims the maker has not submitted information and evidence as to its cost effectiveness for assessment.
Crossbench peer Lady Meacher said: “The findings of our inquiry and review of evidence from across the world are clear. Cannabis works as a medicine for a number of medical conditions. The evidence has been strong enough to persuade a growing number of countries and US states to legalise access to medical cannabis.
“Against this background, the UK scheduling of cannabis as a substance that has no medical value is irrational.”
Ms Lucas, who co-chairs the group, said: “Many hundreds of thousands of people in the UK are already taking cannabis for primarily medical reasons. It is totally unacceptable that they should face the added stress of having to break the law to access their medicine.
“The government should have the political courage to view the issue of medical cannabis separately from wider drugs reform.”
The group commissioned neurologist Professor Mike Barnes to review evidence from the around the world.
His report concludes there is good evidence that medical cannabis helps alleviate the symptoms of chronic pain, spasticity – often associated with multiple sclerosis, nausea and vomiting, particularly in the context of chemotherapy – and in the management of anxiety.
Professor Barnes said: “We analysed over 20,000 scientific and medical reports. The results are clear. Cannabis has a medical benefit for a wide range of conditions. I believe that with greater research, it has the potential to help with an even greater number of conditions. But this research is being stifled by the government’s current classification of cannabis as having no medical benefit.”
Peter Carroll, director of the End Our Pain campaign, which fights for the legalisation of access to medical cannabis, said: “We estimate that over 1 million people in the UK take cannabis for medical reasons. All these people are at risk of police and court action. The poll shows that the British public understand that these people are patients, not criminals.”
A poll released by End Our Pain, which campaigns on behalf of people such as Scottish soldier Callum Brown, who uses cannabis medically to alleviate pain after losing both of his legs while serving in Afghanistan – found that 68 per cent of the British public is supportive of a change in the law that would allow doctors to prescribe cannabis where they consider it help their patients.