16 Jul Norman Baker, UK Drugs Minister, Hosts Medicinal Cannabis Conference At Home Office
Norman Baker MP, UK Drugs Minister
London, UK. Monday, 14th July 2014. Norman Baker MP, Minister of State for Crime Prevention, hosted a conference at the Home Office today including representatives from the Home Office, the Department of Health and CLEAR Cannabis Law Reform. CLEAR was invited to present its proposals for reform of current policy and to offer testimony in support from several medicinal cannabis users.
At the conclusion of the meeting Mr Baker referred to the review currently underway in the Home Office looking at drugs policies around the world. He confirmed that the evidence presented at the conference would be incorporated into the report due for publication in the autumn.
This was the first ever occasion on which such an inter-departmental meeting has been convened on this subject. It marks a worldwide trend towards the reintroduction of cannabis as a legitimate medicine. As Peter Reynolds, President and elected leader of CLEAR, told the meeting:
“The scientific evidence for the efficacy and safety of medicinal cannabis is now overwhelming but don’t take my word for it, look at what is happening around the world. There are now 23 US states that have introduced legal regulation, meaning that 62% of the US population can now use cannabis as medicine. Health Canada is planning on 450,000 people joining its medical marijuana programme and Israel, a country with a population of only eight million, has 40,000 registered medicinal cannabis patients. In Europe, all except three countries permit the use of cannabis as medicine. The UK, France and Ireland only allow the prohibitively expensive product Sativex, which in practice means that very few people can benefit from it.”
Evidence was presented to the conference to counteract widespread misunderstanding that Sativex is nothing more than a liquid form of cannabis, produced to the very highest pharmaceutical standards. Peter Reynolds referred to the re-scheduling of Sativex under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 as “an exercise in deliberate misinformation, seeking to create an entirely false distinction between Sativex and cannabis”. He also presented a detailed comparative cost analysis of Sativex, street cannabis and Bedrocan medicinal cannabis from the Dutch government’s authorised producer. This showed that the same cannabinoid content that costs £560 in the form of Sativex could be provided in Bedrocan for little more than £35.
Two representatives from the Home Office drug licensing department, two from the Department of Health, Mr Baker’s private secretary, a press officer and one more Home Office representative then listened to testimony from three members of the CLEAR medicinal users panel.
Nicolas Ellis, 33, a former national level gymnast and soldier in the Royal Engineers, explained how meningitis in 2007 had led to the development of a number of conditions including fibromyalgia, ulcerative colitis, degenerative disc and joint disease and scoliosis. He now needs a wheelchair to get around outside his home and suffers chronic pain amongst many distressing symptoms. Many years of opioid medicines, steroids and other pharmaceutical products have only worsened his health. He has now discovered that cannabis oil relieves 95% of all his symptoms but it is expensive, difficult to obtain and illegal. Within a week after running out of oil, his symptoms return. His doctor is unable to prescribe him Sativex because of its cost.
“It was a privilege to be part of the CLEAR delegation and I felt that Mr Baker and everyone present really did listen to us. As I said during the meeting, we don’t need this soon, we need it yesterday. Why not? Cannabis is simply an amazing medicine for me and I can see no valid reason why it should be denied to me or others in genuine need.”
Victoria Hodgson, 61, described her conditions of thoracic scoliosis, sciatica, COPD and excruciatingly painful cluster headaches. She is allergic to opioid and all prescription painkillers and her doctor fully supports her use of medicinal cannabis which has continued for more than 20 years with no ill effects.
“I actually have no choice. There is nothing else I can use to alleviate my pain except cannabis. Anything else produces quite frightening adverse reactions and makes me worse. I try to talk to as many people I can to tell them the truth about cannabis. Today has reminded me what a great injustice so many people face because this medicine is denied to us, we are forced to become criminals and I don’t understand why.”
Lara Smith, 41, a mother of three, former paediatric nurse and member of the British Fencing squad explained how she has been prescribed more than 24 medicines for spinal stenosis and severe osteo-arthritis in her spine and knees. Facet joint block injections and epidurals have had limited effect and her daily routine as a mother is terribly restricted because of constant pain. Her NHS pain management consultant has prescribed her Bedrocan medicinal cannabis but the Home Office has refused to issue an import licence. She has now obtained Sativex but has had to pay for it privately at a cost of £450 for barely a month’s supply. It has provided enormous relief but she cannot afford to pay for it on a continuing basis.
“Home Office officials simply dismiss my consultant’s professional clinical judgement. I can be prescribed synthetic THC as dronabinol but this has terrible side effects. Natural THC in Sativex has a marvellous effect but I can’t afford it. Bedrocan is the solution and it’s what I need. I am grateful for the opportunity to explain my predicament and the minister paid me the courtesy of looking directly at me while I spoke, even when I became quite emotional. I just hope he was listening.”
Peter Reynolds also explained to the meeting how several other people had obtained a doctor’s prescription for Bedrocan and had been able to travel to Holland to obtain their medicine. Some CLEAR members were continuing to use this route and were being waved through by Border Force officers when showing a copy of their prescription. George Hutchings, an Isle of Wight resident with CMT neuropathy, had £500 worth of medicine seized that had been prescribed by his NHS consultant. He had commenced legal action seeking its return. As a result, he was refused entry to the Home Office to attend the conference.
The meeting closed with an appeal to the minister that if a doctor prescribes a Bedrocan product then the Home Office should issue an import licence.
Peter Reynolds said:
“This can be a vote winner. While there is much support for legalising cannabis and even allowing people to grow their own, this could be presented as a responsible, cautious, British way of dealing with the issue. We are asking for a very limited, very narrow reform of current policy. It makes sense and there is no risk of diversion or widening illicit use. This would be a progressive, intelligent and above all merciful change which would reflect well on the government.”