Cannabis for Medicinal Purposes: Will it Work to Legalise Cannabis in the UK?
In the US, 24 states plus Washington DC have legalised cannabis for medicinal purposes. It’s not available as an over-the-counter prescription; however, patients have access to medicinal cannabis under the regulation of their doctor. The drug is used to ease the symptoms associated with a variety of conditions, including cancer, Parkinson’s disease, AIDS, epilepsy and Crohn’s disease.
In addition to the US, many other countries are now legalising medicinal use of the drug. In some instances, such as Uruguay, they have taken things one step further and made production, sale and use of the drug completely legal for everyone.
What is Happening in the UK?
In the UK, cannabis is still classed as a Class B drug. This means that, if you’re found in possession of it, you could face a prison sentence of up to 5 years, an unlimited fine, or both. If you’re found growing it or supplying it, you could be looking at a prison sentence of up to 14 years.
However, in reality, the law is a little more lax. If you’re caught using it, according to GOV.uk, you could incur a £90 on the spot fine, but nothing more. This applies to everyone, regardless of age.
Why isn’t it Legal?
In the past, several MPs, notably the former deputy of the Conservative party, Peter Lilley, have called for the legalisation of cannabis. Steve Rolles, Senior Policy Analyst for the Transform Drug Policy Foundation, states that there are a number of advantages for legalising cannabis in the UK, providing that it is under a strict, sensible framework. He comments that the government needs to change its ‘old school’ views, and stop seeing the drug as ‘bad’.
‘Prohibition doesn’t improve public health’, he adds, ‘it actually endangers public health… It doesn’t reduce crime, it fuels crime. It’s very expensive and is delivering terrible outcomes.’
For many people suffering chronic or terminal illness in the UK, particularly those over the age of 50, the legalisation of cannabis, at least for medical use, could have a tremendous impact.
Looking to Australia for Inspiration
Currently, cannabis use in Australia is illegal. However, trials are currently underway in NSW to gain data into how effective cannabis is when used medicinally. If the results prove that the drug offers pain-relief and helps patients avoid unpleasant side-effects associated with other forms of medication, the country will consider permitting the use of cannabis in medical situations.
However, whilst many experts in the UK suggest that taking a similar approach may be beneficial, there are plenty of others who are concerned about the idea of legalising the drug for any purpose, medicinal or otherwise.
The journalist John Rentoul, writing for the Independent, implores us to look at the damaging effects of alcohol, which of course, is completely legal in the UK. He suggests that legalising cannabis could produce the same result, costing the NHS more in the long-term.
Whatever your personal opinion, under the present Tory government, it doesn’t seem likely that cannabis will be legalised, for medicinal use or otherwise, any time in the near future.