Review of medicinal use of cannabis launched by Home Secretary
Mr Javid announced the move in a statement to the House of Commons.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid has announced a review of the medicinal use of cannabis which could lead to patients in the UK being prescribed drugs derived from the banned plant.
Mr Javid announced the move in a statement to the House of Commons in the wake of a series of appeals from parents who want their children to be able to access medications which can alleviate epilepsy and other illnesses.
The Home Secretary announced he had authorised a licence to be issued on Tuesday for six-year-old Alfie Dingley, after his mother said she had been waiting three months for Prime Minister Theresa May to fulfil a personal assurance that he would be allowed to receive cannabis oil.
Speaking to the House of Commons, Mr Javid stressed that the class B drug would remain banned for recreational use.
Mr Javid told MPs that the review would be held in two parts. The first, led by chief medical officer Sally Davies, will make recommendations on which cannabis-based medicines might offer patients real medical and therapeutic benefits.
The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs will consider in the second part of the review whether changes should be made to the classification of these products on an assessment of “the balance of harms and public health needs”.
“If the review identifies significant medical benefits, then we do intend to reschedule,” Mr Javid told MPs.
“We have seen in recent months that there is a pressing need to allow those who might benefit from cannabis-based medicines to access them.”
Mr Javid said that since becoming Home Secretary in April, it had become clear to him that the current legal position on medicinal cannabis was “not satisfactory for the parents, not satisfactory for the doctors, and not satisfactory for me”.
But he insisted: “This step is in no way a first step to the legalisation of cannabis for recreational use.
“This Government has absolutely no plans to legalise cannabis and the penalties for unauthorised supply and possession will remain unchanged.”
Alfie’s mother Hannah Deacon said she had been overwhelmed by the Home Secretary’s announcement and hoped it would be easier to access cannabis medication in future, saying it would be “madness” for sufferers to miss out.
She said she also wanted the Government to make it easier to do research into the medical properties of the plant, saying: “Hopefully we will have a more forward-thinking way of doing things in this country and medicinal cannabis will hopefully, in five or 10 years time, be the norm.
“That is what I would want, because I would not want any other child to go through what my son has.”
Really pleased @sajidjavid has announced a review of medicinal use of cannabis. Any parent would do anything to relieve their child’s pain – Government needs to support them in that.— Jeremy Hunt (@Jeremy_Hunt) June 19, 2018
The announcement of the review came days after Mr Javid intervened to permit the use of cannabis oil to treat severely epileptic 12-year-old Billy Caldwell, who had been admitted to hospital with seizures after supplies his mother had brought from Canada were confiscated at Heathrow.
Billy’s mother Charlotte described it as “amazing news” which she applauded.
She said: “I’m extremely grateful that the Government has moved so quickly once full understanding of the situation was established. I’m anticipating being invited to meet the Home Secretary.”
She added: “At every stage of this campaign we have mentioned making history and we have mentioned it because it is commonsense.
“The power of the mothers and fathers of sick children has bust the political process wide open and it is on the verge of changing thousands of lives by bringing cannabis laws in line with many other countries.
“We are on the threshold of the next chapter of the history book.”
Ms Caldwell said Billy has 16 days’ worth of medication left, and said the Home Office needs to issue a licence for import of anti-epileptic drugs within that time frame.
Billy’s case provoked widespread calls for a change in the law, with former Conservative leader Lord Hague urging ministers to consider full legalisation of the drug.
But he was swiftly slapped down by the Home Office, which said: “Any debate within government about the medicinal and therapeutic benefits of cannabis-based medicines does not extend to any review regarding the classification of cannabis and the penalties for the illicit possession, cultivation and trafficking of cannabis will remain the same.”
Mr Javid told MPs he had the “utmost sympathy” for the families of children like Billy and Alfie, who have travelled abroad to obtain cannabis-based treatments banned in the UK.
“As a father, I know there is nothing worse than seeing your child suffer,” he said. “You would do anything to take away their pain.
“That is why I have the utmost sympathy for Billy Caldwell, Alfie Dingley and many others like them and for their parents, who have been under unimaginable stress and strain.
“I know that they are following a gut parental instinct to do whatever is in their power to try to alleviate the suffering of their child.
“I will do everything in my power to make sure that we have a system that works, so that these children and these parents can get access to the best possible medical treatment.”
In a Telegraph article, Lord Hague said the case of Billy Caldwell had shown the law around cannabis to be “inappropriate, ineffective and utterly out of date”.
Licensing medicinal cannabis would be a step forward, but the Government should also consider legalising the drug, as Canada is on the verge of doing, he said.
Proposals being considered by the Canadian parliament would establish a legal market with licensed stores selling cannabis of regulated strength, with a strict prohibition on sales to teenagers, he said.
“If this works, it sounds more sensible than the current position,” said Lord Hague.
But NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens urged caution.
“I think it’s very important as a country that we don’t confuse this debate around specifically prescribable products for certain medical conditions with a much more generalised debate around the decriminalisation or legalisation of marijuana, without at the same time reminding ourselves that there are some genuine health risks there,” Mr Stevens told a conference in London.
“In those countries where marijuana has been decriminalised, often young people, teenagers, come to think of smoking marijuana as safe. Whereas let’s be clear, actually it isn’t.”
He warned of the risks of addiction to cannabis and long-term psychiatric problems such as depression and psychosis, as well as possible damage to lungs.