It’s around a month and a half since the case of Billy Caldwell, the 12-year old sufferer of severe epilepsy who had the medical marijuana his mother had travelled to Canada to acquire confiscated at Heathrow Airport on their return to the UK, dominated media headlines. The public outcry the media coverage provoked has since triggered what now appears to be an exponential acceleration of the previously snail-like process towards UK legislation falling into line with much of the rest of the developed world and allowing the prescription of medical marijuana.
In the wake of the scandal, several high profile government figures such as Sajid Javid the home secretary and Professor Dame Sally Davies, the government’s chief medical officer, backed calls for legislators to speed up the process of looking at the latest medical research and evidence on medical marijuana. A domino effect looks to now be in motion and another major step towards allowing GPs in the UK to prescribe medical marijuana when they believe it to be appropriate has now been taken.
Yesterday, The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, the official body that advises the government on drugs, delivered the verdict that there is “evidence of medical benefit” of some medical marijuana-based products for certain conditions. The body gave its recommendation for a change in legislation that would allow the prescription of medical marijuana within the context of appropriate safety standards.
Within the international context, the UK has been a relative laggard when it comes to medical marijuana legislation. However, ironically, we are also the world’s largest exporter of the drug. The United Nations says that the 2.1 tonnes exported from the UK in 2016 accounted for 70% of total global exports. UK company GW Pharma is listed on the Nasdaq stock exchange in the USA due to the more favourable environment for medical marijuana companies there. It is one of the world’s leading bio pharmacy companies. Its Sativex drug, for the treatment of severe multiple sclerosis, was the first natural cannabis plant derivative to gain market approval in any country.
Within this context, many campaigners have called the UK’s stance on maintaining the illegal status of medical marijuana as both hypocritical and, in light of recent clinical trial results around its usefulness for the treatment of several conditions including some cancers, untenable. A cross-party parliamentary group on prescribed medical marijuana was recently established. Its co-chairman Sir Mike Penning said on yesterday’s recommendation by the advisory council:
“I’m delighted at this news. More widespread access to medical cannabis in the UK is now within touching distance.”