Legalization of medical cannabis in the UK

by Shanti
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According to the latest legalization news in the United Kingdom, cannabis laws reform is starting to move once again in the UK. Since the 2018 legal change permitting medical marijuana (MMJ) the reform seemed to be on hold. But, as marijuama enthusiasts know, reform progresses at its own pace.  A comment by a former conservative party member has gotten the MMJ reform rolling once again.

Raising MMJ Treatment Concerns 

Conservative Sir Mike Penning commented on the situation for MMJ patients. The purpose of the comment?  To urge Prime Minister Boris Johnson to look at the MMJ situation from a father’s perspective. The comment came after Penning saw the difficulties NHS (National Healthcare System) patients faced getting MMJ.

The law enacted November 1 2018 allows NHS prescriptions for medical marijuana.  Patients with a NHS prescription get their MMJ through the NHS and do not have to pay.  Without a NHS prescription patients are required to fend for themselves.  Even if it means buying their prescription on the black market.

Since the 2018 law, the NHS has given 3 patients a prescription.  The law authorizes up to 20,000 NHS patients. Medical marijuana UK patients not in the NHS program are responsible for finding weed and paying for it.  The expense of getting MMJ can cost patients and their families up to £2,000 a month.

MMJ in the Law

Is weed legal in the UK? The 2018 law places strict requirements on MMJ treatment. Prescriptions for medical marijuana are given on a case-by-case basis.  MMJ is authorized under the law for diseases including,

  • cancer,
  • epilepsy,
  • depression, and
  • multiple sclerosis. 

A qualified medical professional can write a MMj prescription under the regulations.  NHS will not consider prescriptions written by general medical practitioners.   

The Dangerous Drugs Act and MMJ

Prior to 2018 marijuana was illegal and prohibited in the UK. Marijuana’s illegal status in the UK began in 1928. The Dangerous Drugs Act of 1920 made a list of prohibited substances.  and in 1928 lawmakers added cannabis to the list.

At the time the medicinal value of marijuana was unknown. Today there’s more than enough evidence of medical benefits associated with cannabis use.

The UK’s Dangerous Drugs Act has a three-part class system for substances.  Class A includes substances with no known therapeutic value. Today, class A includes:

  • LSD
  • Heroin
  • cocaine
  • crack
  • magic mushrooms
  • ecstacy
  • some amphetamines

A person caught in possession of a class A substance can receive a punishment of up to 7 years jail time.

The 2018 change in law moved cannabis from the class A list to class B.  Class B substances includes:

  • amphetamines,
  • cannabis and
  • Ritalin

Anyone caught with a class B substance can receive 5 years imprisonment. A MMJ card prevents those with legal prescriptions from going to jail for possession.  The Daily Mail claims nearly 20,000 cards have been issued at this point.

Class C substances include:

  • tranquillisers,
  • some painkillers,
  • GHB and
  • ketamine

Possession of a class C substance carries a punishment of 2 years.

marijuana’s position as a class B substance allows for MMJ prescriptions.

Marijuana advocates want cannabis entirely removed from the Dangerous Drugs Act.  Or at the very least moved to class C.

The Problem with MMJ Reform 

The problem is cannabis is not a pressing concern for politicians and lawmakers.

Post-Brexit trade relations, the pandemic, and winning the hearts of the “red-wall”, a previously overlooked area by the metro-elite politicians, are all ahead of marijuana on their agenda.

In addition, there is less popular support in the UK for reform than in countries like the US.  Only 48% of people support legal recreational weed in the UK compared to 68% of people in the US.  As one expert put it, “‘under half’ and ‘more than two-thirds’ are big differences when it comes down to how politicians react.”

Plus recreational marijuana use is not as widespread in the UK as in the US.  Only 3.5% of the British population are regular marijuana users compared to  11.5% of Americans.

Moral issues surrounding marijuana use prevent British politicians from mentioning marijuana legalization. Talking about marijuana sounds too liberal in the present environment.  According to experts any mention of marijuana reform would likely inflame right-wing perspectives.

The MMJ situation at present

Despite the marijuana stigma, Sir Mark Penning raised the issue of MMJ treatment.     Since the 2018 MMJ reform approximately 150 patients are in the medical marijuana NHS UK program.  A far cry from the program’s limits.

Of the 150 patients in the program, only 3 have NHS prescriptions.  These 3 patients are the lucky few who get their marijuana for free.  Other MMJ patients must afford their marijuana without the aid of NHS.

These numbers raise the question of accessibility.

Patients and their families report they pay up to 2000 pounds per month for the marijuana they need.  For some marijuana is the only medicine that works.  These people are willing to do whatever it takes to get the treatment they need.  This includes black market purchases and travel to countries where marijuana is sold.

Fair Access in the UK

The main issue is access.  People need their treatment.  It is inhumane to prevent access on a wider scale.  That’s really the next  step.  Getting access to those who need it.

Until access is fair, brazen people like Sir Mark Penning need to continue speaking out.  They are the hope people need to get the medicine only cannabis can provide.

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