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U.K. Drug Policy Committee Calls for Legalization of Medical Cannabis

The Advisory Committee on the Misuse of Drugs has formally acknowledged that cannabis has medicinal value.

U.K. Drug Policy Committee Calls for Legalization of Medical Cannabis
William Casey/ Shutterstock

A U.K. drug policy committee has called for the legalization of medical cannabis. The Advisory Committee on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) issued what it called “short-term advice” in acknowledging that cannabis has medicinal benefits and that doctors should be able to prescribe it for their patients.

The committee also advised that cannabis should be rescheduled under the misuse of drugs legislation. It said the change would benefit patients and allow for more scientific research. Dr. Owen Bowden-Jones, the chair of the ACMD, noted in a statement that patients with some health conditions should have access to medicinal cannabis.

“The ACMD advises that clinicians in the U.K. should have the option to prescribe Cannabis-derived medicinal products that meet the requirements for medicinal standards to patients with certain medical conditions,” Bowden-Jones said.

“It is important that clinicians, patients, and their families are confident that any prescribed medication is both safe and effective,”  Bowden-Jones added.

The committee chair also said that standards for medical cannabis therapies and protocols for their use should be established by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).

“The ACMD recommends that an appropriate definition be agreed by DHSC and Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority (MHRA) promptly. Only products meeting this standard and definition should be given medicinal status.”

Government Spurred to Action by Billy Caldwell Case

The advice from the ACMD was the result of the second stage of a review of the medical use of cannabis called for by Home Secretary Sajid Javid. Javid tasked the ACMD with the review after the case of 12-year-old Billy Caldwell, a Northern Ireland boy with severe epilepsy, made international news.

Billy had been using a cannabis drug to reduce severe seizures under a special prescription from the government. But when that prescription was abruptly canceled, Billy’s mother took him to Canada to obtain more of the medication. When the pair returned home, Billy’s medicine was confiscated by border officials at Heathrow Airport in London. Despite a warning of the danger from Billy’s mother, the government refused to return the boy’s medication.

Within hours of the first missed dose of his medicine, Billy suffered his first seizure in months. A series of more seizures resulted in the boy being hospitalized. With Billy’s life threatened, the government relented and granted a temporary license to continue using the drug.

After the Home Office returned Billy’s medicine to the Caldwells, another U.K. boy, Alfie Dingley, received the license for a cannabis drug that the government had promised he would get weeks before. Alfie began using the drug after his family moved to the Netherlands to gain access to it. But after funds ran out, the family was forced to return home. A show of support from the public, media, and celebrities led to a meeting between Alfie’s parents and Prime Minister Theresa May. After that meeting, the family was assured the prescription was forthcoming.

Prescriptions Could Be Written Within Weeks

In its recommendation, the ACMD said that government officials should establish standards for cannabis medicines and their use in a “timely manner.” With several cannabis drugs already approved for use by other countries, doctors could start writing medicinal cannabis prescriptions within weeks. The government would then complete a more thorough study to determine the new classification for cannabis.

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