Sajid Javid has announced that ‘specialist doctors’ within the UK will be able to legally prescribe cannabis-based medicinal products by the autumn of 2018. This rapid change in stance by the current government has followed several high-profile campaigns which have captured widespread media attention, such as the plights of Alfie Dingley and Billy Caldwell. The government’s new policy will bring Britain more inline with other countries such as Canada, the Netherlands, Portugal and many states in the US.
It is about time that such a change has occurred, particularly when the benefits of cannabis-based medicine have been apparent for several years. Yet time and time again, people ignore the benefits of cannabis in a medicinal sense as they have this misconception that it is the same as recreational use, which frankly has always baffled me. When it comes to cannabis, the people who are in office and positions of authority strike me as ignorant and misinformed.
Events which have occurred this year have also highlighted, in my eyes, the lack of morality throughout areas of government, in their resistance to grant a temporary license or even allow a change in government policy. Yet, hopefully this is the end of unnecessary and unjustified opposition to a drug which can help thousands of people of all ages, putting them out of pain and lessening the symptoms of a variety of illnesses.
What has the government approved?
The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) has asked the Department of Health and Social Care as well as the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHPRA) to agree on a clear definition of what constitutes a cannabis-derived medicinal product, which in essence means anything which falls outside this currently unknown criteria will remain a Schedule 1 drug, not considered to have any medicinal benefit.
The ACMD chair Dr Owen Bowden-Jones stated “it is important that clinicians, patients and their families are confident that any prescribed medication is both safe and effective.” Furthermore, in its report the ACMD said that raw cannabis of unknown composition should not be given the status of medication, meaning the pharmaceutical grade products such as Sativex and Epidiolex could be the first to be prescribed in the UK. Ironically, the UK already manufactures both of these drugs, which begs the question as to why we have manufactured such a drug, without our laws allowing it to be prescribed and benefit the many corners of our population. It is typical of Britain to line our own pockets by selling to other nations, while our own population does not reap the benefits.
In addition to Sativex and Epidiolex, various cannabis oils which are currently provided to patients in the EU and North America, may also be prescribed, particularly after both Alfie Dingley and Billy Caldwell were given permission to use such products.
Is legalisation for recreational cannabis next?
For those cannabis lovers out there, the approval of cannabis-based medicines does not equal the legalisation of recreational use. Both Sajid Javid and Theresa May have unequivocally rebuked any calls for the legalisation of cannabis, with them still using the outdated inaccurate reasons of the past. Personally, I believe that in a time of economic turmoil and a bleak future beyond the shambles of Brexit, there are worse things that could be considered than the legalisation of cannabis.
The benefits are now beginning to outweigh the negatives. To paraphrase William Hague, there are much better uses for resources than continuing the failing war on drugs. The current policy, which has largely been in place since cannabis was first classified as a Class B drug in 1971, is evidently outdated and ineffectual as it has not curbed the wide usage of the drug within the UK. There is a booming illicit market which, according to the National Crime Agency, is worth upwards of £1 billion a year. Research has also found that 6.6% of adults aged 16 to 59 have admitted to using it in the past year and 29% of all adults have admitted using it at least once in their lifetime.
Crime is often associated with the drug and that is not without reason, yet a change in governmental policy could see a power shift away from those in crime as well leading to various benefits for the UK socially and economically.
One word: taxation. According to the think tank Volteface, the cannabis trade within the UK is worth £6.8 billion, which in terms of tax revenues could generate upwards of £1.05 billion a year. Now in the age of Brexit, where a no-deal scenario is stupidly on the horizon, this could provide some stability to our extremely fragile economy. Furthermore, it is estimated that taxpayers would save £50 million a year, which is currently spent keeping cannabis related offenders in prison. Money would also be saved on policing, as 67% of all drug related crimes are related to cannabis.
In an economic sense, it’s a no brainer.
It often makes me laugh when people say cannabis is deadly or addictive, amongst many other things. Imagine if alcohol was discovered now: would it really be legal? A psychoactive drug, with the ability to change the brain’s chemistry, which can be lethal in high doses. Meanwhile, there is no current evidence to suggest that cannabis is lethal or that is chemically addictive in the way that alcohol is. Alcohol is known to increase the risk of liver disease, cancer, cardiovascular problems and psychiatric problems, yet it is widely accepted on the whole, and legal.
The legalisation of medicinal cannabis was long overdue and hopefully the change in policy can benefit thousands of people nationwide. In terms of recreational legalisation, maybe the government should actually study the issue and engage with the facts and figures, rather than hide behind the rhetoric which has dominated the issue for the past five decades. It is coming to the point where the benefits are beginning to outweigh the negatives. There is no doubt the legalisation of medicinal cannabis is a step in the right direction for all areas of society.