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UK Government Details New Medical Cannabis Plans

The UK government will begin accepting applications to prescribe cannabis-based medicines within a week, and the home secretary has outlined plans for a broader review of cannabis law.

Speaking at the House of Commons on June 19, Home Secretary Sajid Javid said the government review would take place in two parts. To begin with, a group of experts led by the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Sally Davies, will consider the evidence for medical cannabis’ benefits. Professor Davies has previously spoken out against the criminalisation of people who use drugs.

Subsequently, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs will use the panel’s findings to provide an assessment of “what, if anything, should be rescheduled”, Javid said. “If the review identifies significant benefits, we do intend to reschedule [cannabis]”.

Cannabis is a Class B drug, but – perhaps most importantly – it is a Schedule 1 drug, meaning that it is currently considered to have no therapeutic value whatsoever. Despite this stance, the UK is the largest producer and exporter of medical cannabis in the world – the government licenses businesses to mass produce and export the drug, but UK citizens are denied access to it.

As it is unclear how long the review process will take, the government is establishing a clinical panel to assess patients’ needs on a case-by-case basis. The panel will “[advise] ministers on applications for cannabis-based medicines”, Javid said, and “will start considering applications [to prescribe] within a week”.

Javid also stated that Alfie Dingley – a six-year-old from Warwickshire with a rare form of epilepsy that causes him numerous seizures – would be granted a license immediately.

Javid noted that these moves should not be seen as an endorsement of non-medical “recreational” cannabis:

“This step is in no way a first step to the legalisation of cannabis for recreational use. This government has no plans to legalise cannabis, and the penalties for unauthorised supply and possession will remain unchanged.”

Reform of medical cannabis laws have shot to the national spotlight in the past week, with policymakers from across the political spectrum calling for reform.

Those calling for increased medical cannabis access include health secretary Jeremy Hunt, Labour's shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, and a host of MPs from various parties. Politicians voicing support for the legalisation of non-medical cannabis has also surged among MPs in recent days. Such a move has been endorsed by former Conservative leader William Hague – who said that “any war [on cannabis] has been comprehensively and irreversibly lost”, while former Labour leader Ed Miliband said “we should legalise cannabis [if] we care about mental health”.

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