Charity Commission Reject Cannabis Research Charity
At the heart of the UK’s policy on cannabis is a fundamental contradiction – cannabis, the law says, has no medical or therapeutic value. And yet around the world, from the USA, to the Czech Republic, Australia, and Israel (among many others), cannabis and cannabinoid extracts are legally available for patients suffering from a wide array of medical conditions. Not simply as a form of palliative care, but as a medicine.
The driving force behind this sea change in global policy has been research. Scientists and doctors from across the globe have produced thousands of papers on every conceivable aspect of cannabis and its medical properties. As with anything, though, more research is always necessary, and unfortunately the UK’s contribution to cannabinoid research has been noticeable, if not by its absence – we’re home to GW Pharmaceuticals after all – then certainly by its scarcity of major studies and meaningful funding.
This is in part down to the law, and the hoops that scientists have to jump through due to cannabis’ schedule 1 status. The UK is far from the only country in which the law restricts research, however, and yet many of these other countries have been able to undertake far more studies than the UK has. So some of the blame has to be placed on a simple lack of interest from many in the scientific community. Unlike countries such as Israel, Spain, and the Czech Republic, there is no dedicated centre for cannabinoid research in the UK.
One UK campaigner has recently been trying to change this. Jeff Ditchfield – who opened one of the country’s first cannabis cafes in Rhyl, North Wales, back in 2002 – applied last year to the Charity Commission for permission to found the ICRF, or International Cannabinoid Research Foundation.
The aim of this new organisation, Ditchfield says, would be to raise funds for scientific research into the medical properties of cannabis and cannabinoids, as well as to raise awareness among the scientific and medical communities of cannabis’ potential. However, after a year long process, during which time the Charity Commission felt it necessary to ask Mr Ditchfield whether or not he knew that cannabis is illegal, they have now passed their judgement. His application has been rejected.
Their reason for rejecting the application, as explained in a typically long-winded letter, can be broken down into two equally baffling parts: firstly, the Charity Commission claim, the formation of the ICRF wouldn’t be in the public’s best interest. Secondly, cannabis is illegal, and therefore – according to the Charity Commission – any activities undertaken by the ICRF would necessarily be political in nature, and would therefore fall outside of the remit of a charity.
It is not immediately clear from the Commission’s letter detailing their decision exactly how they came to the conclusion that cannabinoid research is not ‘for the public benefit.’ They state that when making their decision on this point they considered the following:
1) Is the research in a valuable area of study and of sufficient quality, merit and objectivity?
2) Is it for the public benefit?
3) Is it political?
Note point number two in that list. In deciding whether or not the formation of the ICRF would be for the public benefit, one of the three things considered is apparently whether or not it would be for the public benefit. Presumably their answer to that question was simply a self-fulfilling ‘no’.
It’s difficult to escape the feeling that the Commission’s findings were based not on logic, but on politics alone.
In explaining their decision, the Charity Commission say:
“…this does not of itself mean it cannot be for the public benefit; but it is contrary to public policy and on that basis public benefit is not established. In particular, a case is not made that potential harm is sufficiently controlled.
Additionally, it raises the question of whether the subject matter itself is for the public benefit in light of the UK policy…”
What they seem to be suggesting is that due to the fact that cannabis is illegal this makes research into its properties non-beneficial by definition. In a clear example of how prohibition restricts progress, the Charity Commission – which is a government department – is eschewing logic in favour of towing the party political line.
This brings to mind the case of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, who recently announced that they would no longer be offering advice on cannabis policy due to the fact that the issue has become too politicised. Clearly, political posturing and points scoring has once again got in the way of research and progress.
The Charity Commission seem to have missed the point that the ICRF would be raising money to research cannabinoids, thus expanding our existing knowledge on what is a contentious issue, and one which should require the greatest amount of research possible. In his submission to the Charity Commission, Mr. Ditchfield stressed that funds raised by the ICRF would not be used to campaign for a change in the law, and would instead be used to fund desperately needed research such as that being undertaken by Professor Manuel Guzman and his team at Madrid Complutense University, exploring the anti-cancer properties of cannabinoids.
Professor Manuel Guzman is the man who discovered that THC could cause apoptosis in cancerous cells. He and his team are behind most of the groundbreaking research into cannabinoids and their potential as cancer-fighting drugs.
Associate Professor Guillermo Velasco who works alongside Professor Guzman in Madrid, said of the Charity Commission’s decision:
“Research performed during the last years has provided strong evidence of the efficacy of cannabinoids/cannabinoid-based medicines in some applications. However, there is still a lot to do in this field at the preclinical and clinical level.
“I am convinced that Foundations like the one that Jeff Ditchfield is trying to set up are of the greatest interest to speed up independent research on this field and therefore to accelerate obtaining solid scientific data to support the utilization of cannabis derivatives/cannabinoid-based medicines for the treatment of different diseases. In my opinion there is absolutely no doubt that the existence of this or other similar foundations is of public utility.”
I asked Jeff if he thought there was public support for a UK cannabis research charity:
“I don’t just think it, I know it. Last year I became frustrated with the bureaucratic delay so I decided to privately raise funds for the ICRF’s first planned research project. It was apparent to me that pharmaceutical companies would only fund research into cannabinoids if they could gain a patent, I couldn’t envisage a commercial company funding research with no potential commercial reward.
Cancer sufferers are interested in what is the most effective combinations of cannabinoids to treat their particular cancer, they want the most effective treatment, not the treatment that is the most profitable for shareholders”
With a fundraiser on GoFundMe, Jeff raised over €33,000 to conduct an experiment with Madrid Complutense University to answer what he calls “a pressing question.”
“A pressing question for me is; which is more effective as an anti-cancer agent? Whole plant extracts or individual pharmaceutical grade cannabinoids (both synthetic and plant derived)? This study will hopefully answer this question”
One of the 273 donors to Jeff’s fundraiser is Melanie, who said:
“My name is Melanie D*******. As you will be able to see I have donated €2,200 to your project.
To briefly explain the large sum, my mother passed away from cancer in February after a long hard battle and we promised her that any funds raised after her passing would go to the right type of cancer research.
It was the thing that mattered to her the most, for our future and the rest of the human race. These funds were raised from the funeral and through a fundraiser we held at our house in order to donate to you guys!”
The experiment is scheduled to commence at Madrid Complutense University in Autumn 2017, and will compare the effectiveness of synthetic and individual cannabinoids with Full Extract Cannabis Oil (FECO), aka whole plant cannabis extracts.
What now for cannabinoid research?
Even if we were to accept the Charity Commission’s assertion that they do not grant charitable status to organisations which fund research into currently illegal drugs, it would throw into question the legitimacy of other charities which have been granted this status. Most importantly, it would force us to take a good look at Cancer Research UK (CRUK), the foremost cancer charity in the country.
One of the main reasons for Jeff Ditchfield’s attempt to found the ICRF was and is what he sees as the lack of meaningful research into cannabinoids and cancer in the UK. Jeff has long been an advocate for the need for more research in this area, as he and many others are convinced – due to promising early findings in laboratory trials – that it is an area which shows a great deal of promise.
He’s far from alone in this belief. Cancer Research UK themselves have dedicated an entire section of their website (written with help from none other than Professor Manuel Guzman) which lays out the current state of research, and even provides links to the ongoing studies that CRUK have funded into cannabinoids and cancer. If it were indeed the case that the Charity Commission do not allow charities to raise funds for such research, then this would appear to be a huge contradiction.
Instead, it would appear that the Commission’s decision is based not on a desire to somehow protect public health by blocking research into potentially life-saving medicine – they’re perfectly happy for other charities to do this – but is instead down to an institutionalised bias against anyone considered to be promoting the notion that cannabis has medicinal benefits. After all, it would be highly embarrassing for the government if one of its own departments facilitated proof (as if more proof were needed) that their entire position on cannabis is based on a lie.
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