Parliamentarians have an open discussion on lifting criminal sanctions for the possession and use of all drugs. Molly Meacher is well known for her reformist standpoint, and is working on influencing global UN drug policy.
Parliamentarian and drug reform specialist discuss change in cannabis regulation and how it would benefit the UK.
The bmj published an essay by Molly Meacher and Nick Clegg calling for much-needed drug reform in the UK. They say the UN has followed an irrational policy for far too long: for 55 years to be precise. The United Nations drug conventions banned substances such as heroin, cannabis, and cocaine because they believed it would lead to reduction in use and advance human health and welfare.
Evidence over the years does not support the hypothesis, and shows no correlation between severe laws prohibiting drugs and a decrease in drug use. Drug use has not diminished over time; instead, it has increased worldwide, and many drugs are stronger and more dangerous now than before prohibition.
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Drug policies should be evidence based
In the past, UN member states were not encouraged to investigate reform policies. But in April this year, after much discussion, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime made a clear statement. Drug policies must be evidence based, and aim to improve public health. The statement was made at a special session held by the UN General Assembly.
The development of an evidence base requires trying different approaches. What could this mean for the UK?
Classification of cannabis
Cannabis has been a Schedule 1 substance since 1985. This status forbids prescription by doctors, and inhibits research. The classification is irrational. Cannabis has low toxicity, is safer than many medicines, and much less harmful than legal tobacco or alcohol.
People have used the cannabis plant through the ages as medicine. In recent years, many advances, such as the identification of the human endocannabinoid system, have been made, and the value of cannabis as a medicine is becoming scientifically supported.
The All Party Parliamentary Group for Drug Policy Reform published a report by Mike and Jennifer Barnes on the global evidence supporting the medicinal properties of cannabis. They concluded that “good” evidence supports medicinal use of cannabis for pain, especially neuropathic pain, anxiety, seizures and nausea. “Moderate” evidence support the use for appetite stimulation in the context of chemotherapy, sleep disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, fibromyalgia, and some symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. This makes UK scheduling of cannabis, which denies any medicinal value, awkward.
CBD declared a medicine
The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) announced on 3 October 2016, “We have come to the opinion that products containing cannabidiol (CBD) are a medicine.”
CBD and THC, the two key components of cannabis, are recognized as having medicinal value, but the plants that contain them are scheduled as dangerous, with no medicinal value.
This bizarre situation should urge government ministers to revisit the scheduling of cannabis, and perhaps consider moving it from schedule 1 to schedule 4. This would facilitate research, and enable patients with a wide range of conditions to benefit from cannabis medicines to alleviate their symptoms.
It seems the world has to rethink and review legislation concerning cannabis, as a more tolerant attitude is starting to snowball across the globe. The process is likely to take time, but it has already begun.