Medical cannabis products will be legal in the United Kingdom by autumn, Home Secretary Sajid Javid announced on Thursday. The decision comes after a government review of the medicinal use of cannabis. Javid ordered the study in response to high-profile cases of young Britons denied cannabis treatments for serious medical conditions.
Prior Cannabis Policy ‘Not Satisfactory’
“Recent cases involving sick children made it clear to me that our position on cannabis-related medicinal products was not satisfactory,” Javid said. “That is why we launched a review and set up an expert panel to advise on license applications in exceptional circumstances.”
Javid emphasized that the government was only relaxing its stance on the medicinal use of cannabis, not legalizing it outright.
“This will help patients with an exceptional clinical need but is in no way a first step to the legalization of cannabis for recreational use,” Javid said.
Javid made his decision based on advice from the chief medical officer for England, Prof. Dame Sally Davies, and the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. The Home Secretary had called on them to review the medicinal use of cannabis after young U.K. boys Billy Caldwell and Alfie Dingley were denied cannabinoid therapies to treat serious seizure disorders.
Charlotte Caldwell, Billy’s mother, said the announcement came on her son’s 13th birthday.
“For the first time in months I’m almost lost for words, other than ‘thank you Sajid Javid’,” she said. “Never has Billy received a better birthday present, and never from somebody so unexpected.”
Caldwell had been publicly critical of the U.K. government after a cannabis medicine used to treat her son Billy’s epilepsy was seized by border officials at Heathrow Airport in June. Billy had been using the medicine under a special license, which the government subsequently revoked. Having the medicine again available to Billy at home, Caldwell said, will improve the boy’s health and quality of life.
“But, crucially, my little boy Billy can now live a normal life with his mummy because of the simple ability to now administer a couple of drops a day of a long-maligned but entirely effective natural medication,” she said.
Cannabis To Be Rescheduled
Currently, all cannabis products are Schedule 1 substances, which in the U.K. means they have no therapeutic value and can only be used with a special license from the Home Office. With Javid’s change in policy, cannabis medications approved by the government will be placed in Schedule 2, indicating that they potentially have medical value. The Department for Health and Social Care and the Medicines and Health products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has been tasked with clearly defining cannabis products to make rescheduling and prescribing possible.
Healthcare professionals and cannabis activists alike have applauded Javid’s decision. The Royal College of Nursing characterized the news as “very welcome.”
Dr. Tom Freeman, a senior academic fellow at King’s College London, said the new policy would have a “substantial impact on research by facilitating the development of safer and more effective medicines.”
Sir Mike Penning is a former justice minister who called for a cannabis license to be issued to Alfie Dingley, another U.K. boy with a serious seizure disorder. Although he was pleased with the announcement, Penning is wary that regulation of cannabis medicines will be too strict.
“Any move to restrict medical cannabis in the U.K. to a very narrow range of derived products, each requiring full pharmaceutical trials, thereby blocking out the many products available overseas, will lead to great disappointment and be a missed opportunity,” Penning said.