In the second part of his look at cannabis PETER FROST reports on the move to make medical – and sometimes recreational — use of the drug legal.
Today, under current laws in England and Wales, cannabis is almost always officially illegal. The Home Office tells us there are no plans to legalise the drug.
When last debated in Parliament in 2015 the government announced “substantial scientific evidence shows cannabis is a harmful drug that can damage human health. There are no plans to legalise cannabis.”
A 2016 petition which called for cannabis to become legal was signed by nearly a quarter of a million people. Recent polls suggest that just under half of British population would support the legal selling of cannabis through licensed premises.
More than half of our MPs agree with some degree of legalisation or decriminalisation. Neither the Labour Party nor the Tories seem keen to take the issue forward officially, however, both the Green Party and the Liberal Democrats have called for legalising its medical use.
In many parts of the world cannabis is now legal for medical use and in an increasing number of places also legal for recreational use. In Australia, Puerto Rico, Poland, the Czech Republic, Canada, Croatia, Turkey, Macedonia, Uruguay, Spain, Slovenia, the Netherlands, Jamaica, Colombia, Chile, 25 states in the US and allegedly in North Korea it is legal or decriminalised in some form.
Oxford University has just announced it is to undertake a £10 million study on the benefits of using marijuana in treating pain, cancer and inflammatory diseases.
This follows calls from some MPs for a law to allow medical use of cannabis. Studies have increasingly supported the therapeutic value of the drug in treating many conditions including multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and arthritis and for dealing with nerve pain.
The new Oxford study, Cannabis Research Plan, is to be a partnership between the university and a venture capital company who are investing £10 million to create a global centre of excellence in cannabinoid research.
Oxford’s Professor Ahmed Ahmed told us existing studies were beginning to produce exciting findings, which could result in new treatments. “This field holds great promise for developing novel therapeutic opportunities for cancer patients,” he said.
At present Sativex, a prescription-only drug used by multiple sclerosis patients, is the only licensed cannabis-based product in Britain. It is produced from plants grown on specially licensed cannabis farms at secret locations in the British countryside.
Sativex is given to help ease muscle spasms but it is not available through the NHS which says it is too costly as private patients can spend up to £500 a month on it.
Many who suffer from various diseases use cannabis illegally and claim it provides relief and those with sufficient wealth travel to places where the drug can be obtained legally.
Some senior Tory MPs have called for Theresa May to legalise cannabis simply in order to aid the Treasury tax revenues kitty. After all tobacco and alcohol sales contribute billions to the tax pot.
A poll — held after parliamentary debates on the issue — found that 58 per cent of MPs backed the use of cannabis for people battling health conditions.
It found 60 per cent of Labour MPs supported the use of cannabis for these reasons along with 55 per cent of Conservatives. Support from the Scottish National Party was most dramatic with 88 per cent of MPs in support and none of those polled expressing any opposition.
Both Liberal Democrats and the Greens officially support medical legalisation.
An estimated one million people in Britain already use cannabis for therapeutic reasons risking arrest and prosecution by buying cannabis from drug-dealers or growing it themselves.
Medical cannabis needs to differ from cannabis available illegally for it to be used safely. It has to be carefully produced to ensure it is of high quality and the chemical composition needs to remain consistent from batch to batch so that patients and doctors can have certainty about its effects.
The total medical and recreational marijuana trade in Britain is currently worth £6.8 billion a year. It is not possible to establish accurately the breakdown between that used medically and simply for pleasure.
The right-wing think tank Adam Smith Institute thinks there are major earnings to be had for state coffers if cannabis was deregulated — between £750m and £1bn could be earned by Inland Revenue if it was taxed.
They also say legalisation would lead to significant savings in criminal justice costs given that there are now nearly 1,500 offenders in prison for cannabis-related crimes costing taxpayers £50m a year.
It is certainly time for the drug in its entirety to be reclassified under existing drug laws so that doctors could prescribe it and chemists dispense it.
Whether it is made legal or decriminalised for recreational use is a far bigger issue and one I’ll leave to far wiser folk than me.