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Cannabis debate: Laws governing medical research in UK could be relaxed

Published 13/10/2015

Liberal Democrat former health minister Norman Lamb warned cannabis was wrongly treated differently to tobacco and alcohol
Liberal Democrat former health minister Norman Lamb warned cannabis was wrongly treated differently to tobacco and alcohol

Laws governing medical research into the effects of cannabis on patients could be relaxed, a Home Office minister has signalled.

Mike Penning told MPs on Monday that the Government would not support an e-petition calling for the legalisation of the production, sale and use of cannabis - which gathered 223,169 signatures.

But the Conservative frontbencher said there is a need to "look carefully" at the impact of certain parts of legislation on research.

He added there should not be anything in law which prevents research into improving the quality of people's lives, noting he would work with other government departments to see how that can be done.

The minister replied after several MPs argued for cannabis to be legalised on the basis it would offer medical relief to patients and because successive governments have failed to control use of the drug by criminalising it.

Labour's Paul Flynn, who led the debate, described prohibition of cannabis as a "disaster" and insisted this approach has seen consumption and related crime soar.

The Newport West MP compared the approach of successive governments over legalising the drug to the failure of the US to favour banning possession of guns.

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Liberal Democrat former health minister Norman Lamb warned cannabis was wrongly treated differently to tobacco and alcohol, adding: "My own former party leader Charles Kennedy lost his life through alcohol, a legal drug in our country."

As the debate took place, the Liberal Democrats also announced plans to set up an independent expert panel headed by former government drugs adviser Professor David Nutt to establish how a legalised cannabis market would work in Britain.

Conservative former health minister and working GP Dan Poulter raised concerns over the potential mental and physical health effects of cannabis.

He said there was a case for legalising medicinal use of cannabis for people who have diseases like multiple sclerosis, potentially through making it a schedule two drug rather than schedule one, making it consistent with the opioid methadone which is prescribed to heroin addicts.

Dr Poulter said: "I believe there are issues on medical research which need to be looked at and how we can look at the easier and more effective support of the potential medical benefits in pain control in terminal and progressive illnesses."

In response to the debate in Westminster Hall, Mr Penning said: "I have every sympathy with my friends and members of my family that have had MS and the terrible, terrible pain and anguish they go through from an incurable disease.

"I start from a premise of having sympathy and let's see what we can do about it in the 21st century to take people out of that environment."

Mr Penning said he has "real concerns about legalising cannabis in the way" described by Mr Flynn.

He later told MPs he wanted to see what "positives" could come out of the debate, adding: "I'm not going to stand here and say we're going to legalise cannabis.

"I'm not going to say that from a moral position or from a personal position or from a government position.

"But I do think we could look carefully, as was alluded to by (Dr Poulter), at the research and see why the research isn't taking place and what effects certain parts of the legislation are taking today."

Mr Penning added: "We shouldn't have anything in statute, I think, that prevents research into improving the quality of people's lives."

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