18 Mar UK Is The Only Country In the World To Criminalise Doctors Who Prescribe Cannabis
It’s popularly believed that the obstacle to prescription of cannabis by doctors is that it is in schedule 1 of the Misuse of Drugs Regulations. In fact, in 2001, the then drugs minster, Labour’s Bob Ainsworth MP, enacted a little known provision of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 UK specifically to make prescribing of cannabis a criminal offence. Home Secretary at the time was David Blunkett MP.
Extraordinarily, apart from mescaline, raw opium, coca leaf, DMT and some extremely rare substances that most people will never have heard of, cannabis is the only substance to which this ruling applies. The Statutory Instrument can be seen here. It designated cannabis as a drug to which section 7(4) of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 applies. I have reproduced the relevant sections at the end of this article.
Why? Well that is a very good question and one that will no doubt be subject to endless speculation. Could it be because only a couple of years previously the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee had recommended that it be available on prescription? No doubt the conspiracy theorists will connect it to that fact that only six months previously GW Pharmaceuticals PLC had floated on the Alternative Investment Market of the London Stock Exchange. It certainly demonstrates a determination by the then Labour government to restrict and prevent the medical use of cannabis as tightly as the law could possibly allow. It is unprecedented that such rigid controls should be placed, without any supporting evidence, on a substance which we know from recorded history has been used as a medicine for at least 5,000 years.
What is most important is what this means for law reform. Removing cannabis from schedule 1 would be insufficient to allow doctors to prescribe it. The Statutory Instrument would also need to be rescinded so that section 7(4) of the Act no longer applied to it.
However, what this highlights is that the scheduling of cannabis and its use as medicine is entirely within the discretion of the Home Secretary. The present incumbent, Sajid Javid MP, or any of his successors can, entirely on his own account, make any change to the scheduling of cannabis or doctors’ ability to prescribe it. He can also issue a licence on whatever terms he chooses to enable individual prescription, importation or possession.
In other words, the fate of Alfie Dingley and thousands more is entirely in Sajid Javid’s hands. The dishonest excuses advanced by junior Home Office minister Nick Hurd, that they “want to explore every option within the current regulatory framework” is obfuscation, doublespeak and deception at its most blatant.
The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 section 7(3) and (4) Source: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1971/38/section/7
(3)Subject to subsection (4) below, the Secretary of State shall so exercise his power to make regulations under subsection (1) above as to secure—
(a)that it is not unlawful under section 4(1) of this Act for a doctor, dentist, veterinary practitioner or veterinary surgeon, acting in his capacity as such, to prescribe, administer, manufacture, compound or supply a controlled drug, or for a pharmacist or a person lawfully conducting a retail pharmacy business, acting in either case in his capacity as such, to manufacture, compound or supply a controlled drug; and
(b)that it is not unlawful under section 5(1) of this Act for a doctor, dentist, veterinary practitioner, veterinary surgeon, pharmacist or person lawfully conducting a retail pharmacy business to have a controlled drug in his possession for the purpose of acting in his capacity as such.
(4)If in the case of any controlled drug the Secretary of State is of the opinion that it is in the public interest—
(a)for production, supply and possession of that drug to be either wholly unlawful or unlawful except for purposes of research or other special purposes; or
(b)for it to be unlawful for practitioners, pharmacists and persons lawfully conducting retail pharmacy businesses to do in relation to that drug any of the things mentioned in subsection (3) above except under a licence or other authority issued by the Secretary of State,
he may by order designate that drug as a drug to which this subsection applies; and while there is in force an order under this subsection designating a controlled drug as one to which this subsection applies, subsection (3) above shall not apply as regards that drug.