The UK’s Home Secretary announced last week a decision to reschedule (some) medical cannabis products and make them available on prescription.
“Recent cases involving sick children made it clear to me that our position on cannabis-related medicinal products was not satisfactory,” said Sajid Javid.
Such cases included that of Billy Caldwell, which some might say was the proverbial straw leading to this decision. Mr. Javid announced a review into the scheduling of cannabis for medicinal purposes in June involving two sets of independent advisers.
In making last week’s announcement, Mr. Javid was also quick to stress that this change wasn’t a precursor to legalising cannabis for recreational use in the UK. In the UK, cannabis possession can result in up to 5 years in prison, an unlimited fine, or both.
It’s expected the new rules will come into play within weeks. In the interim, doctors will still be able to apply to the independent expert panel on behalf of patients wishing to access medical cannabis products, with all fees waived.
As to what constitutes a medicinal cannabis product under the rule change is yet to be decided by the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) and the Medicines and Health products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which will develop a clear definition.
“Making medicinal cannabis available on prescription will benefit the lives of ill patients currently suffering in silence,” tweeted Mr. Javid on Thursday. “There is nothing harder than seeing your loved ones in pain – which is why I have taken this decision.”
Currently, cannabis is still officially listed as a Schedule 1 drug in the UK, deemed to have no therapeutic value and with access only permitted for research purposes. The about-face will see some cannabis products listed as Schedule 2, which includes drugs such as heroin, pethidine, cocaine, methadone, fentanyl and oxycodone. Some feel this classification is still overkill given the nature of cannabis.
Given current scheduling, it’s an odd twist that in 2016 the UK was the world’s largest producer of legal cannabis for medical and scientific uses. During that year, the UK produced 95 tonnes (more than double its 2015 total), well ahead of Canada, which produced 80.7 tonnes.