Full disclosure, I used it in my student days, but cannabis only ever made me sleepy and a bit queasy so it’s not my cup of tea. That said, it still enjoys a huge popularity in our country.
The fact is we aren’t ever going to stop people using it, so I’ve come to the view, and it’s one shared by my party, that the problem is not so much its widespread use, but rather its legal status. It takes up a great deal of police time and space in our prisons; the black market for its production is sustained by hidden farms often tended by children trafficked to this country; and we’re potentially denying the Treasury a king’s ransom in lost duty and taxes currently enjoyed in the more permissive regions of North America.
It’s readily available in our communities, certainly, but the cold irony is that the one place you can’t get hold of it is arguably where it matters most and that’s in our pharmacies. Cannabis and its derivatives can have unparalleled qualities in terms of pain relief, muscle relaxation or the suppression of nausea, but largely because of our puritanical national approach to cannabis, the NHS does not license these products. This makes me angry, particularly when that reality denies a proven therapy to someone like my constituent, Murray Gray.
Murray is five. In his short life he has endured countless, violent seizures due to a rare form of epilepsy, and they’re getting worse. His doctors have tried the full range of available treatments and therapies, but the only thing that makes a difference to Murray is cannabidiol (CBD) oil. Yet, for Murray and those like him, it is put largely out of reach because of the fact that Scottish Government and NHS Scotland won’t approve a license for its use.
His mum, Karen, has started a petition to have CBD oil prescribed on the NHS and she joins the family of six-year-old Alfie Dingley from Warwickshire who are campaigning for CBD to be licensed by NHS England. To my mind, people shouldn’t have to fight for something that doesn’t cost a fortune and is proven to make them better.
What’s ludicrous about this is that the purchase and use of CBD is legal, you just have to get hold of it yourself with whatever resources you have, and then find a private health care professional to advise you on the dosage and safe use.
It has offered the hope of a more stable and predictable future to patients like Murray and their families, but that’s a hope which is currently being denied to them by NHS Scotland and the Scottish Government.
The powers of the Scottish Parliament do not stretch to determining the legality of otherwise of drugs, but we can control the criminal justice response to their use and the licensing of their derivatives for medical use.
For all of the reasons outlined above, I believe it’s time to re-examine the laws and rules attached to cannabis in both parliaments.
To that end I’ve co-signed a cross-party letter calling for a new, national conversation on controlled substances and the national policy landscape around them.
For me that starts with the humane and scientifically supported decision to license cannabinoid therapies like CBD for use through the National Health Service.
Murray, Alfie and countless others like them are looking to Scotland’s decision makers for hope and a change in the rules.
Alex Cole-Hamilton is Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP for Edinburgh West