Specialist doctors in the United Kingdom will be able to prescribe medical cannabis legally starting Nov. 1. This legislative change was announced by Home Secretary Sajid Javid on Thursday.
It can be recalled that over the summer, Javid called for a review of the government’s cannabis policy after the public outrage over the cases of two epileptic children who sought legal access to medical cannabis. Because of the UK’s current drug law, the children were denied access to cannabis-based treatments for their life-threatening seizures.
Highly publicized cases
These two high-profile cases involve 12-year-old Billy Caldwell and six-year-old Alfie Dingley.
Billy’s case sparked a national conversation regarding the issue of medical cannabis.
The boy suffers from a severe form of epilepsy and his mother, Charlotte, uses cannabis oil to treat his symptoms. The oil, which contains the main psychoactive chemical ingredient in cannabis — THC — is effective at dramatically reducing the boy’s seizures.
Last year, Billy became the first child in Ireland to be prescribed by the National Health Service medical cannabis oil. Billy went 300 days seizure-free after taking his prescription. However, the Home Office later decided not to renew this license, prompting Charlotte to take Billy to Canada to get his medication.
In June, while Charlotte was trying to bring in a supply of cannabis oil for Billy from Canada, the medication got confiscated by Heathrow Airport authorities. Charlotte publicly pleaded for the return of her son’s cannabis oil, which was six-months’ worth of medication.
Because Billy was left with none of his treatment, he experienced intense seizures and had to be admitted to a London hospital. With the boy’s condition worsening and with his doctors making it clear that this was a medical emergency, Javid granted him a special license and authorized the return of some of Billy’s cannabis oil.
Javid also issued the same “exceptional license” to Alfie, who also needs cannabis oil for his multiple seizures. The Dingleys’ request for medical cannabis access for Alfie had first been denied. However, thanks to Billy, Javid allowed Alfie to use his cannabis-based medication to treat his symptoms.
You can read more about these and about the UK’s initial steps to address the issue here.
In July, the Home Office said that it had decided to allow senior clinicians to be able to prescribe medical cannabis to patients who have “an exceptional clinical need.” Javid, however, did not indicate when this new policy will take effect.
Javid said on Thursday that it was important for them to take quick action in order to help sick people who can benefit from medical marijuana. According to him, he was moved by the heartbreaking cases of sick kids.
Javid added that they have now delivered on their promise and that specialist doctors will now have the option to prescribe medical cannabis where there’s a real need for it.
Under the new policy, general practice doctors will not have the authority to prescribe medical cannabis and that the decision to prescribe the drug will be made on a case-by-case basis. This means that a prescription can be made only when a patient has a special clinical need that was not and cannot be met by licensed pharmaceutical products.
The new measure applies to England, Wales, and Scotland. Northern Ireland, meanwhile, also plans to undertake the same legislative amendments.
What’s more, the Home Office clarified that the legalization of medical cannabis products does not clear the way for the legalization of recreational cannabis. In its statement, the Home Office pointed out that the penalties for the unauthorized possession and supply of recreational pot remain the same.