It’s time for Labour to back patients when it comes to medical marijuana

This month the medical marijuana industry announced its first ever conference in the UK. Paul Millar argues Labour should now get behind patients on the issue. 

This month the medical marijuana industry announced it is to host its first ever conference in the UK. Paul Millar argues it’s time for Labour to get behind patients on the issue. 

Ancient Egyptians used it to treat eye problems; Queen Victoria used it every week to treat menstrual cramps. Tried and tested by tens of millions of people over 5,000 years, natural cannabis provides the most effective pain relief for seriously ill people.

But for the last 46 years, cannabis has been illegal in Britain, and categorised as a drug which contains no medicinal benefits whatsoever. Successive governments have failed to correct the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act which hardened the UK’s approach to drugs.

And while the Liberal Democrats, the Greens and the SNP side with the afflicted, Labour sadly lacks a party line on the issue – despite a range of Labour MPs including Jeremy Corbyn registering their own support for the change.

This summer has seen the MS Society review and change its position from opposition to support in favour of re-legalising medicinal cannabis, following a consultation with its members.

Labour should follow their example and consult its own membership on the issue.

The Tory-DUP Government make the vague claim that there is legal access to medicinal cannabis, but in reality this still isn’t the case. Only one product containing cannabis is available in the UK, Sativex; it is a mouth spray which 82% of 4,000 MS sufferers have said is extremely effective.

However, the drug is not prescribed in England, after NHS England followed advice from NICE which judged Sativex to be too expensive. The only way patients across most of the UK get around this is to pay GW Pharmaceuticals £375 + VAT per pack, unaffordable for most. The Welsh Government decided not to take NICE’s advice, but in Wales the availability of Sativex is known to be very patchy.

Paranoid Home Office guidelines – which hands a single company a monopoly on making a product scarcely available, and reserved exclusively for people with MS – means the only realistic and desirable choice for many seriously ill people is to use the black market, in which they can never be sure of the quality and strain of the cannabis they are buying.

The Government appears neither to be at all phased by the hopeless situation ill people find themselves in, nor able to square ministerial statements with the law it stubbornly refuses to change.

Yet model reforms can be found in Australia, Canada and Germany, where political courage has spurred a wave of medical research which has allowed state-backed home-growing of herbal cannabis and given rise to a licencing system to regulate ethical companies to safely produce and sell the medicine.

Outdated Home Office dogma, and the longstanding cowardice of Government frontbenchers, prevent reform of this kind happening here. Sticking to the status quo condemns hundreds of thousands of seriously ill people to continued suffering.

On October 10th, the United Patients Alliance is holding a protest outside Parliament in which members are invited to safely consume cannabis through vaping or drinking in tea.

And on the same day, the Labour MP Paul Flynn will attempt to introduce a Bill which seeks to provide a simple amendment to drug regulations which recognise the medicinal benefits of cannabis. The idea is gaining a great deal of cross-party support.

A new, ambitious policy is long overdue. It is high time Labour gets behind patients and adopts a sensible position on medicinal cannabis.

Paul Millar is a contributor to Left Foot Forward and works for Paul Flynn MP

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