U.K. Drug Reform Group Report Concludes “Medical Cannabis Must Be Legalised Now”
The All Party Parliamentary Group for Drug Policy Reform has today released the findings of their seven-month enquiry into medical cannabis in the UK. The report, titled ‘Access to medicinal cannabis: meeting patient needs,’ took evidence from 623 patients, professionals, and experts, and reviewed more than 20,000 scientific and medical studies before coming to a series of conclusions and recommendations.
Those recommendations boil down to one main point: that medical cannabis must be legalised as a matter of urgency, with cannabis itself being downgraded from Schedule 1 to Schedule 4, medical cannabis imported from the Netherlands, and a limited system of ‘grow your own’ for some patients.
The main author of the report, Mike Barnes, summed up the APPG’s findings in an article for the Guardian, writing, “Currently, the government has cannabis classified as a , a classification for substances judged to have no medicinal value. This is irrational and incoherent. The evidence is plain to see and has been compelling enough for a large to including the , Germany, Spain and .”
The experience and evidence from other countries is a key feature of the report, which argues that the UK is falling behind the rest of the world by refusing to accept the evidence that is right in front of its eyes. Often this is very literally the case, such as with GW Pharmaceuticals – one of the most successful and well-known medical cannabis companies in the world – which operates out of the UK and exports cannabis products all over the planet, but can’t sell them at home due to NICE declaring them to be too expensive.
As well as the need to drag the UK’s cannabis policy into line with much of the rest of the world, the APPG’s report highlights the need for drug policy to not contravene basic human rights. Indeed, the report opens with a quote from the constitution of the World Health Organisation: “The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition.”
The report correctly argues that current UK cannabis policy does not adhere to this principle, and points out that various UN agencies, such as the WHO, UNODC, UNICEF, and many others, have repeatedly called on member states to ensure that their drug policy is in line with human rights. Unfortunately, those pleas from many within the UN were not – officially at least – heeded at the last UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs in April, where the International Drug Control Conventions remained largely unchanged.
What this new report does not point out, however, is that despite the drug control conventions still being in place, and as theoretically restrictive as they are, countries all over the world are still making changes to their drug and cannabis policies without consequence from the UN. Meaning that the UK would be foolish to expect repercussions of that sort should they decide to legalise cannabis, and therefore should so immediately, as the evidence is overwhelming.
Despite all of the evidence, however, the report has not been greeted with universal approval. Indeed, it has been criticised by both staunch prohibitionists and pro-reformers alike, for very different reasons.
In a typically boneheaded article in the Daily Mail, many column inches have been gifted to so-called experts who have dismissed the report as “anecdotal folk medicine,” conveniently ignoring the 20,000 studies analysed by the author. Elsewhere other, unnamed, ‘experts’ bring up the ‘gateway theory’ and ask why it was ignored by the APPG, when in reality this ‘theory’ has been debunked so thoroughly on so many occasions that it is not worth mentioning other than as a half-hearted attempt at a smear.
In the same Daily Mail article, aspersions are cast on George Soros, suggesting some kind of conspiracy theory about a super-rich financier/super villain who just wants to watch the world ‘burn one down’ for his own monetary benefit.
Finally, the Mail article argues that the legalisation of medical cannabis would in fact just be the ‘thin end of the wedge,’ and is merely a kind of Trojan horse designed to soften up the electorate and politicians so that they’ll be more likely to accept full legalisation of cannabis and other drugs.
Ironically, similar criticisms have come from those pro-reformers who do want to see full legalisation. Many have argued, with some justification, that legalising medical cannabis will in fact put back the campaign for full legalisation, potentially by years. Both the pro and anti-reform camps cite California as a prime example of their logic – either they legalised medical cannabis so that they could eventually introduce full legalisation and are now on the verge of succeeding, or the fact that they had to wait until 20 years after the legalisation of medical cannabis to get a vote on recreational proves that medical first is not the way to go.
What almost all parties agree on is that medical cannabis is not necessarily the end game. The difference lies in whether or not they believe further reform to be a good thing, and clearly those that are against medical cannabis legalisation out of a misguided desire to oppose any kind of progress are not only in the wrong, they are also seemingly willing to allow patients to suffer to satisfy what is at heart simply a moral opposition to ‘drugs,’ rather than an evidence-based one.
Whatever your opinion on this report and its recommendations, it can hardly be denied that this has the potential to be an historic moment for cannabis policy reform in the UK. Just a few years ago the idea that a group of MPs (albeit one that is by definition in favour of reform) would publicly support the legalisation of medical cannabis would have been almost laughable. When you consider the recent poll that found cross-party support for legalisation, there is arguably more reason for optimism than at any time in recent history.
Having said that, however, there is at least as much chance that nothing will happen. This is hardly the first report to slam our drug policy in recent times, and none of those have made a difference as yet. Indeed, the most damning of them all – Drugs: International Comparators – which studied different approaches to drug policy throughout the world, and concluded that the harshness of a country’s drug policy has no effect on levels of drug use, was suppressed by the then Home Secretary. That Home Secretary has an even more powerful platform from which to oppose reform these days. She’s the Prime Minister, Theresa May.
It seems very unlikely that May is going to change her tune on drug policy reform, and indeed a Home Office spokesperson has been quick to trot out the usual line: that the government has no intention of legalising cannabis because of its ability to cause harm. But there is a definite sense that momentum is building, and with more MPs than ever seemingly on board, as well as the support of much of the electorate, it may only be a matter of time before we finally see some kind of reform.
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