Starting November 1, the United Kingdom began allowing expert doctors to legally issue prescriptions for cannabis and cannabis-based medicines.
Cannabis campaigners lobbied the U.K. Parliament to reconsider its stance on categorizing marijuana as a Class A substance, a classification similar to the United States’ Schedule I definition, and it seems the interest groups found a sympathetic listener in Home Secretary Sajid Javid.
Popular opinion on pot-based medicines in the U.K. changed following a rash of highly publicized cases in which children with severe epilepsy had their illicitly-gained cannabis medications confiscated by the British government.
A push from parents to change cannabis laws in the UK
Over the summer, U.K. Home Secretary Sajid Javid, moved by the testimony of parents whose children suffered from such conditions, called for an urgent review of cannabis-based medicinal products.
In a statement from the Home Office, Secretary Javid spoke of how the testimony affected his decision. “Having been moved by heartbreaking cases involving sick children, it was important to me that we took swift action to help those who can benefit from medicinal cannabis,” he said in his statement.
The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs and the U.K.’s Chief Medical Adviser developed recommendations regarding cannabis-based medicinal products, which Parliament adopted on October 11.
“We have now delivered on our promise and specialist doctors will have the option to prescribe these products where there is a real need,” Secretary Javid said. “I’m grateful to the expert panel - who have been considering cases in the interim - and to those who’ve worked hard to bring about this change at the earliest possible opportunity.”
Strict prescribing requirements for medical cannabis
While the new law will not limit the types of conditions considered eligible for cannabis-based treatment and will not require doctors in the U.K. to seek approval from a panel of medical experts to provide medical cannabis for their patients, there are a few requirements which U.K. patients interested in cannabis-based medicines will need to meet.
Patients seeking pot prescriptions must see a specialist doctor, such as a neurologist or a pediatrician, not a general practitioner. Doctors will determine cannabis prescriptions on a case-by-case basis.
President of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, Professor Ashok Soni OBE hailed the decision.
“This news will be welcomed by many patients with serious health conditions,” he said in a statement. “The prospect of a future where safe and effective licensed cannabis-based medicines can be prescribed to help relieve suffering is genuinely exciting.”
1/3 Home Secretary @SajidJavid statement on the Billy Caldwell case: “This morning, I’ve used an exceptional power as Home Secretary to urgently issue a licence to allow Billy Caldwell to be treated with cannabis oil.
— Home Office (@ukhomeoffice) June 16, 2018
Recreational cannabis remains illegal
Dr. Derek Tracy, a psychiatrist and government drugs adviser in the U.K. told the said in an interview with CNN that painful illnesses such as multiple sclerosis and epilepsy were the obvious early candidates for cannabis treatments.
“The larger step from a legislative point of view has been taken,” Tracy said. “What you might see is some finessing of the law in terms of specific compounds found to be particularly helpful or particularly toxic.”
While this news is encouraging, marijuana is still prohibited for recreational use. Secretary Javid made it clear that while medical marijuana is available for prescribed users, this is not the first step in legalizing cannabis for recreational use. The penalties for that sort of pot use remain, like the monarchy, unchanged.