Cannabis re-legalisation should become Labour Party policy

Ancient Egyptians used it to treat eye problems; Queen Victoria used it every week to treat menstrual cramps. Trialled 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 not strictly prohibited 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 but stupefied 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 personal support for change.

This summer has seen the MS Society review and change its position from opposition to support in favour of re-legalising cannabis for medicinal use following a consultation with its members. Labour should follow their example and consult its own membership.

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

Britain has become desensitised to stories of seriously ill people breaking the law to use the medicine they know to work. For the last two decades juries have increasingly refused to return guilty verdicts, and police have largely stopped prosecuting offenders.

It was in 2001 that the absurdity of the system was fully personified in the story of ex-policewoman Kate Bradley. Bradley’s years as a police officer had been spent arresting criminals selling cannabis on the black market, only to find herself becoming a customer to the same people she once arrested after she was diagnosed with MS.

Fast forward to of 2017, and the Tory minority government makes the vague claim that there is legal access to medicinal cannabis, when they surely know this not to be true. Only one product containing cannabis is available in the UK, Sativex. It is a mouth spray which 82% of 4,000 MS sufferers surveyed 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 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.

The regrettable situation is caused by paranoid Home Office regulations which require ripping up and rewriting. They hand a single company a monopoly on making a product scarcely available and reserved exclusively for people with MS. This means the only available option for many seriously ill people suffering from chronic pain is to use the black market, in which they can never be certain of the quality or the strength of the cannabis they are buying.

Ministers appear to be in a total mindfuck about it all. Home Office Minister Sarah Newton acknowledged in July that medicinal cannabis ‘can be very beneficial’. So why does cannabis remain classified inside the Home Office’s Schedule 1 category of drugs which are defined as containing “no medicinal benefit”?

Paul Flynn is moving a Ten Minute Rule motion next Tuesday (10th October) which proposes a Bill to right that wrong and move cannabis to Schedule 2 where its medicinal benefits will be officially recognised. It is high time Labour get behind Flynn and dozens of MPs who support the Bill from all sides and put the issue of re-legalising medicinal cannabis out to its membership.