On Nov. 1, medical cannabis became available with a doctor’s prescription in the United Kingdom — at least legally. As for cannabis in patients’ hands, there is none, aside from what the black market will provide.
It’s early yet — less than a week in — but there’s already a significant problem with the medical marijuana program in the U.K.: Nobody, including the very people whose personal odysseys inspired the “change” in the law, appears to be able to access any of this now-mythical legal medical cannabis.
It gets worse. According to members of Parliament interviewed by the Belfast Telegraph, the actual medical guidance offered to doctors and other gatekeepers standing between patients and their preferred medicine is acting as a roadblock, a “botched and cruel” affair that means very little on the ground has changed.
U.K. law changed only after the well-publicized suffering of sick people like Billy Caldwell and Alfie Dingley, boys with severe epilepsy, who were forced to go to great lengths (in Caldwell’s case, becoming a near-literal refugee in Canada, where the cannabis oil that solved his seizures is easily accessed and abundant) to secure the marijuana-based medicine that offered them healing and relief.
It was only after medicine intended for Caldwell was seized by authorities at Heathrow Airport that Sajid David, the U.K. Home Secretary, announced that cannabis would be rescheduled effective Nov. 1. That in turn triggered a flurry of bureaucratic activity, including recommendations from physicians’ groups — which have been criticized by patient advocates as well as influential British charity groups as “highly restrictive.”
It is likely to remain this way until such time as there’s a sufficient “evidence base” to support marijuana’s use in a clinical setting. Does this sound familiar?
It should: It’s the same vicious cycle that cannabis is locked into in the United States. There is not enough scientific evidence to prove the illegal drug works in the way its adherents swear it works; since it is illegal, it’s hard to study. Since it’s hard to study, there’s not enough evidence to support its legalization. And around and around we go again.
“Due to the limited evidence base, the Government are only allowing prescription of cannabis products to be administered by those clinicians listed on the Specialist Register of the General Medical Council (GCM) and to patients where there is a clinical need which cannot be met by a licensed medicine and all other treatment options have been exhausted,” as the British Brain Tumour Charity explained. “Due to the limited evidence base, the Government are only allowing prescription of cannabis products to be administered by those clinicians listed on the Specialist Register of the General Medical Council (GCM) and to patients where there is a clinical need which cannot be met by a licensed medicine and all other treatment options have been exhausted.”
“NHS England announced very few patients will actually be eligible for a prescription and we’re calling on the Government to urgently review the interim guidance for the prescription of cannabis-based medicinal products,” the charity wrote on its website on Nov. 3.
As for Caldwell: According to the Telegraph, he’s been informed that he does not qualify for a prescription. As of Nov. 3, the Caldwells were back where they were when they started: On a plane, headed to Canada, where the boy can access cannabis oil.
It’s true that what’s happening in the United Kingdom is already significant progress compared to a year ago, when marijuana-supporting members of Parliament could not even have their bills heard — and in fact, found their efforts blocked by their supposed colleagues — and when medical-cannabis patients were reduced to holding protest smoke-outs at the Westminster Palace gates. At the same time, Caldwell’s torturous ordeal reveals how much longer there is to go before something as simple as a plant extract can be provided to people in demonstrable need.
TELL US, are you surprised U.K. patients still can’t access medical marijuana?