The UK’s medical cannabis ban has been criticised by government ministers and opposition parties following a high-profile case, but Theresa May is resisting pressure to change the law.
On June 16, the Home Secretary Sajid Javid announced that the government would allow a 12-year-old boy, Billy Caldwell, to be treated with medical cannabis oil. Caldwell’s mother had been administering the medication to treat her son’s severe epilepsy, but had the drug confiscated by border agents after arriving in London from Canada – where medical cannabis is legal. The drug was returned to the Caldwell family under a 20-day license and on condition it is only administered in a hospital.
Javid has since pressed Prime Minister Theresa May to reconsider the government’s policy on medical cannabis. According to the Spectator, Javid attempted to discuss medical cannabis reform at a private Cabinet meeting on June 18, but the prime minister refused to consider the issue.
In a Q&A session later in the day, May insisted that “there’s a very good reason why we’ve got a set of rules around drugs, and around cannabis and other drugs – because of the impact of that they have on people’s lives. And we must never forget that.”
May, who recently vowed to “continue to fight the war against drugs" did not endorse a change in the government’s approach, but said "we are looking at whether we have the right process for ensuring that we can licence these drugs when clinicians feel that they should be licensed."
Increasing pressure on the prime minister, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt voiced his opposition to the government’s approach. In an interview with ITV news, Hunt said:
"We are [reviewing the law around medical cannabis] because I think we all recognise that it is wholly unsatisfactory, not just for Billy but for many other families in that situation. […] There is strong clinical evidence that in certain situations cannabis oil can be very beneficial; we are not getting this right – that’s why we are having this review”.
The leading opposition, the Labour Party, made a more specific call for reform; Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott announced that:
“Labour in government will allow the legal prescription of cannabis oil for medical purposes. We will also review drugs policy to address all issues of public health. The Government should stop being so heavy-handed and bureaucratic and put the welfare of children first.”
In an afternoon parliamentary session on June 18, legislative reform to allow medical cannabis use was also endorsed by several MPs from across the political spectrum. Support was voiced by former Conservative minister Ian Duncan Smith, the SNP's Justice and Home Affairs spokesperson Joanna Cherry, the Green Party’s co-leader Caroline Lucas, as well as MPs from Plaid Cymru and Northern Ireland’s DUP.
Opposition to the UK’s medical cannabis ban has intensified in recent months, after it was revealed that the husband of drugs minister Victoria Atkins has a license to legally grow cannabis for medical purposes. Meanwhile, a subsidiary company of Capital Group, for whom Theresa May’s husband works, holds the majority of shares in the company cultivating said cannabis.
Policing minister Nick Hurd has said that an expert panel of clinicians will be set up to advise the government on medical cannabis provisions. For now, the prospect of legislative reform around medical cannabis remains uncertain.
Take a look at our interactive medical cannabis map of the EU to see how laws vary across the union.
Read Release’s summary of the legality of medical CBD cannabis products in the UK.