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Medicinal Cannabis: Time for a New Approach

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Last month the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Policy Reform launched their report ‘Accessing Medicinal Cannabis: Meeting Patient’s Needs’ following a seven-month inquiry, supported by the evidence review 'Cannabis: The Evidence for Medical Use'. The report’s main recommendation is that the Government should legalise cannabis for medicinal use.  As a member of this APPG I have long believed that drug policy should be evidence-based and should seek to minimise harm and unnecessary criminalisation. I therefore welcome the publication of this report and have read its findings carefully.

In terms of cannabis’s medicinal efficacy, the report found the following:

•           There is good evidence for one or more of the cannabis products or “natural” cannabis in the management of chronic pain, including neuropathic pain; spasticity; nausea and vomiting, particularly in the context of chemotherapy; and in the management of anxiety.

•           There is moderate evidence for the use of cannabis in sleep disorders; appetite stimulation in the context of chemotherapy; fibromyalgia; PTSD; and for some symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

•           There is some limited evidence of efficacy for a further list of disorders.

The report also found that ‘[t]here is a sizeable population of patients in the UK who have found that medicinal cannabis works for them. For many, it is the only substance that brings them relief from their symptoms.’ As such, the legal prohibition of medicinal cannabis is causing many people unnecessary difficulties in accessing what is, for them, a valued medicine. Many countries are reforming their laws to facilitate access to medicinal cannabis for people suffering from chronic medical conditions, and many studies show that these reforms have led to positive health outcomes.

The report goes on to recommend that the Government:

1. Accepts the evidence from this inquiry, from the associated Barnes report and from around the world that medicinal cannabis works and has a role to play in the treatment of a range of conditions;

2. Moves to introduce a system that allows lawful access to medicinal cannabis in the UK. This will involve the relisting of cannabis from Schedule 1 to Schedule 4;

3. Carries out an assessment of the various models used across the world to allow lawful access to medicinal cannabis and draw up options for consultation;

4. Notes our preference for a system based on the proposed German model which we believe has characteristics that ensure much wider availability of medicinal cannabis to patients; and

5. That the Government decriminalises home growing of small quantities of cannabis for medicinal purposes as witnessed in Uruguay and some US states.

Although I have some reservations about the phrase ‘medicinal cannabis works’, I support moves to relist cannabis from Schedule 1 to Schedule 4 in order to allow lawful access for medicinal use. This would allow further research to be carried out into the efficacy and dosage for specific conditions. I further support the recommendation that the Government carries out an assessment of the different legislative models used around the world and draws up options for consultation. I do not believe recommendation 5 is supportable at this stage, however, as it would undermine the capacity for prescription medicinal cannabis to be carefully dispensed and monitored. If the argument is to be made for legalising recreational cannabis, this should be supported by a separate assessment.

Overall, I welcome the growing body of support for reform of the laws around medicinal cannabis, and I hope that the Government will consider the APPG’s findings carefully and with an open mind. As a member of the APPG I will continue to follow these issues closely and work with supportive Parliamentary colleagues to press the Government to change their approach.

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