Medical Cannabis In The UK: Access Through A Loop Hole
4 min

Medical Cannabis In The UK: Access Through A Loop Hole

4 min

The UK currently operates under a policy of zero tolerance when it comes to cannabis. It is illegal on every level - but this could change soon.

The UK currently operates under a policy of zero tolerance when it comes to cannabis. It is illegal on every level - but this could change soon.

The global stance towards cannabis is slowly shifting, and the UK is taking notice. Recent developments in the US and Uruguay are signalling the beginning of the end of prohibition.

„Clear“-member brings medical cannabis into the UK

Recently, a UK citizen successfully and legally imported medical cannabis into the UK. Jamie Watling, a 33 year old male who has been suffering from a degenerative spinal disorder that causes chronic pain, spondylitis, spinal stenosis and sciatica.

Most recently Watling has been diagnosed with Dercum’s disease, a rare disorder in which causes painful tumours of the spine spread to the rest of the body. As conventional treatment had stopped being effective, Watling was looking for alternatives. Having used cannabis occasionally in the past, Watling thought he would give it another go to assess its effects – and he was very pleasantly surprised. He found it offered him great relief with few side effects.

Taking this news to his doctor, Watling was further surprised to find out his doctor very open minded to the idea, to the point where his doctor took matters into his own hands and conducted his own research, eventually suggesting and prescribing Bedrobinol, a medical strain of cannabis offered by the Dutch company Bedrocan.

With this in hand, Clear, an organisation that is campaigning for cannabis law reform, applied to the Home Office for Watling to be granted a personal cannabis import license. They also enabled Watling to travel out the Netherlands, where his prescription had been arranged with a pharmacy, in order to pick it up.

Understandably, the return journey was quite a nerve racking one, and the courage required to walk up to customs agents to tell them you had something to declare must have been staggering. Fortunately, all of the paper work was in order, and UK customs had no issue with it. They did comment that should they not have declared the cannabis, then they would have been in a great deal of trouble, and that they shall be seeking advice from the Home Office as to how they should proceed if presented with a similar situation in the future.

This is not the only breakthrough for cannabis in the UK. There is mounting pressure for the government to re-assess their policy.

Sanjay Gupta turns his eye to the UK

Dr. Sanjay Gupta is a famous American neurosurgeon and medical reporter for CNN who has drastically changed his view of cannabis in the last year. He had previously been an anti-cannabis figure, believing it did more damage than good. This, however, has changed. Mounting research has changed his mind, to the point where he has told the world that we have been misled on the nature of cannabis over the last century, and that he apologises for his part in it.

Gupta has since created a CNN documentary exposing the real truth of cannabis and putting it in terms that the average American can relate to, helping to remove the stigma that has traditionally gone with it.

Now Gupta has turned his eye towards developments in the UK, spreading the story of Watling with an interview and creating a documentary exposing the pitfalls of current UK legislation, (expected to air in March 2014). Under current UK law, cannabis is a prohibited substance that is classified as having absolutely no medical value what so ever. Obviously, this contradicts all scientific evidence, and also the decision of the Home Office to allow Watling to bring cannabis into the UK as well as letting GW Pharmaceuticals grow marijuana for the production of Sativex, a cannabis based medication.

Home Secretary orders drug policy review

Recently, Home Sectary Theresa May has ordered a study into the policies of other countries that have decriminalised or implemented more relaxed laws to control cannabis. It is likely to look at countries that have legalised the use of cannabis on medical grounds, as well as paces such as the states of Washington and Colorado where there are plans to legalise it for recreational use. It will also compare the use of cannabis to other harmful substances and hard to regulate “legal highs”, as mounting evidence suggests that government control is superior to prohibition.

Saying this, May has also rejected a call for a special report on drug policy to be produced by 2015, begging the question as to just how long they plan to take. What this means is that the UK should not expect any radical changes in the immediate future for the recreational user, but the wheels of change are in motion within the UK. Let us hoped they are not stopped before they can build momentum. That is not to say there is nothing to be done for the medical user, the case of Walting has opened up a loophole that Clear hopes will allow medical users to obtain the weed they need as long as they are willing to take the steps required.

Getting access

Before we proceed, it is very important for there to be an understanding that this is a loop hole. The cultivation, use and possession of cannabis remain illegal at all levels within the UK. Proven medical need only acts as a mitigating circumstance should the issue be taken to court under the 2009 Coroners and Justice Act. We do not endorse any illegal activity.

The key for a medical patient looking to use medical cannabis within the UK is complete transparency. The patient's GP must clearly record the request for a prescription, noting the claims that it positively impacts their condition, will be used safely and discreetly, will not being abused, and is has no negative side-effects. It must be on record that the patient has also enquired into the possibility of a private prescription, even those these are pretty much non-existent. An application must also be made to the Home Office, asking for permission to import Bedrocan cannabis, much like Watling did. It should be noted, that all further attempts have been reported as being denied since the case of Watling. What is important here is that evidence is being generated. Should a patient ever be taken to court, they can demonstrate they have the sole intention of using cannabis for medical purposes and have exhausted all potential avenues of acquiring it.

By having this evidence, and a quantity of marijuana that would be deem a personal medical supply, court sentences can vary from the case being dismissed to a mil-level community sentence. Once again though, we do not endorse breaking the law, and following these procedures do not exempt patients from it – it just demonstrates mitigating circumstances.

As more countries and states chose to legalise cannabis, most notably the US and South America, pressure is building to overhaul the failed laws of prohibition. After all, the cannabis economy will bring in millions in tax revenue. The changes are as good as never before, to see changes rather soon - also in the UK.

Luke Sumpter
Luke Sumpter
With a BSc (Hons) degree in Clinical Health Sciences and a passion for growing plants, Luke Sumpter has worked as a professional journalist and writer at the intersection of cannabis and science for the past 7 years.
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