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Medical cannabis will be legalised in the UK by the end of 2018

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Home Secretary Sajid Javid declared that patients with 'exceptional clinical needs' will be able to access certain cannabis derivatives with a prescription as soon as this autumn.

Specialist doctors will now be able to prescribe cannabidiol (aka CBD) without appealing to an independent expert panel on behalf of their patients, as they have had to do in the past.

It’s not clear which cannabis derivatives will hit the market. It is up to the Department for Health and Social Care, and the Medicines and Health Products Regulatory Agency to define which medical products will be available for use in the UK.

Until the law comes into effect, doctors will still be able to apply to an expert panel, but the application fee will be waived.

There has been pressure on Javid to consider medical marijuana from high-profile cases involving severely epileptic children.

The Home Secretary commissioned a two-part review with a panel of experts, ultimately deciding to allow the use of medical marijuana.

The move brings UK policy closer to countries like Canada, Holland, Portugal, and most of the US states, but there still remain unanswered questions about which treatments will be rescheduled. Cannabis activists and affected families wait to see if medical cannabis will be restricted to a narrow set of products, or if the process will be prolonged by pharmaceutical trials that were already done in other countries.

Medical cannabis was outlawed in 1971 mostly as a result of Richard Nixon’s 'War on Drugs,' which spread fears of a drug's ability to serve as a gateway to stronger, more dangerous, drugs. Some experts would argue that Nixon had political motives, separate from public health, for proposing and implementing his strict anti-drug policies, which maximised potential harm and minimised the social benefit of legalisation by placing many restrictions on research into drugs’ healing potential.

Times have changed, and according to a 2018 Sky Data poll, 82 per cent of Brits support legalisation of medicinal cannabis and a BMG Research poll for The Independent showed 51 per cent to support legalised recreational use.

The British public seem to have more respect for facts than the US government because popular opinion correlates with clinical data.

Research has shown cannabis to help with serious conditions like epilepsy, MS, and cancer treatment symptom alleviation. The World Health Organization has given cannabidiol its official approval, proclaiming it not dangerous. Just last month the US Food and Drug Administration approved a drug derived from the marijuana plant for the first time in its history.

Is this the UK’s first step towards decriminalising recreational use? Javid doesn’t think so.

He explicitly stated that the policy change is in no way a first step to legalising recreational use. However, some might say that cannabis is being socially decriminalised. Anecdotal evidence, while not exactly credible, suggests the police have been overlooking possession. Even some conservative policymakers agree that marijuana criminalisation profits criminals and drains police resources, while the “cannaceutical industry” could profit the state through taxes, lower convictions of non-violent crimes, and improve social health policy.

As many countries are beginning to fully decriminalise cannabis, there certainly are many models to follow.

As the therapeutic possibilities of cannabis are being discovered, perhaps we should explore other substances that show potential. While native peoples were prosecuted for their use of drugs in spirituality and healing, maybe they were on the right track.  

Image of Sajid Javid courtesy of Houses of Parliament (featured image has been modified) and cannabis bud by Moheen Reeyad

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