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With Brexit Done, Why Won’t Boris Johnson Fix British Medical Cannabis?

PHOTO Arno Mikkor


With Brexit Done, Why Won’t Boris Johnson Fix British Medical Cannabis?

The Conservative prime minister’s party is still reserving medical cannabis access to only the richest of sick Britons and his best excuse is gone.

Last summer, Boris Johnson, the rumpled former tabloid journalist and ex-mayor of London now serving as the press-hating prime minister of the United Kingdom, surrounded himself with weedheads.

With the hire of Blair Gibbs, a longtime cannabis-policy reform advocate and legalization supporter to a senior position at No. 10 Downing Street, it seemed Johnson was preparing for a post-Brexit Britain where medical cannabis was at last available to all Britons — and, within as little as five years, commercial recreational cannabis would follow.

But with Johnson’s adversaries in Jeremy Corbyn and Labour vanquished, and Britain finally exiting the European Union, where are we? In just the same place we were before, if not worse: cannabis illegal, sick children forced to break the law or pursue expensive and potentially harmful pharmaceutical cures, and nobody happy about any of it.

Except, maybe, for Johnson, who — despite supporting medical cannabis back in 2008, when he didn’t have any power — now doesn’t have to make any difficult decisions. Meanwhile, families of sick people are selling their family homes to pay for medicine.

With an election in the balance, Johnson promised in October to discuss medical cannabis access for epileptic children personally with a member of Parliament. As the Daily Record reported, Johnson broke that promise in January, dispatching instead an apparatchik to meet with elected officials.

Currently, medical cannabis is “legal” in Britain, but can’t be dispensed through the National Health Service except in extremely limited circumstances, meaning access is only for the rich or the lawbreakers. It can cost up to £3,500 pounds a month for a cannabis prescription through a private doctor, the BBC reported.

Since Nov. 1, 2018, when U.K. law “legalized” medical cannabis, only 18 patients have managed to get a prescription through NHS, as iNews reported. (Keep in mind that “saving” the U.K.’s vaunted single-payer healthcare system was part of how Brexit was sold to the massesbefore leading Brexiteers then started calling for U.S.-style privatization.)

Even when patients do obtain a prescription, treatment options are limited. Only two “cannabis-based” medicines have been approved for use in the United KingdomEpidiolex and Sativex, both developed by Britain-based GW Pharmaceuticals. One is prescribed for epilepsy, and the other is to treat multiple sclerosis — meaning anyone else, with chronic pain, or wasting syndrome from cancer, or insomnia, or autism, is screwed, even though companies like Canada-based Tilray have been advertising cannabis-oil imports since last summer.

A massive clinical trial project, meant to supply as many as 20,000 U.K. citizens with medical-grade cannabis products by 2021, is in the beginning stages, but in the meantime, policy in the U.K. is well behind that in other European countries like Italy and Germany — and well behind most U.S. states.

During an appearance on the BBC, Matt Hancock, Johnson’s secretary of health, blamed delays on drug companies, insisting that “it comes down to the drug companies to make them in the right way. They need to come to the table on this.” Except that’s a half-truth: NHS could subsidize drug costs, but is choosing not to. The NHS and related health officials could allow patients to access whole-plant medicine, if the Home Office allowed for citizens to grow cannabis at home — but none of that is happening.

And here’s Johnson. While a privileged teen at Eton, the U.K.’s posh prep school, Johnson is known to have had a “jolly nice” time smoking spliffs — he’s admitted as such.

Other world leaders oversee far more draconian drug policies. It’s not a list you want to be on: Vladimir Putin’s Russia, Rodrigo Duterte’s Philippines, Xi Jinping’s China. The difference is that none of them have called for reform or promised to do something about it, before changing their minds.

Now, as prime minister, Johnson is deporting longtime U.K. residents for minor cannabis offenses, and conveniently forgetting whatever rationale it was that led him to understand legal weed was a good idea back in 2008. In the meantime, in the post-industrial cities in Britain’s version of the U.S. Rust Belt, a drug-overdose crisis is brewing.

Does this sound familiar? It should! More and more, Johnson’s U.K. is resembling Donald Trump’s America, with one very large difference — without the (blue) states where cannabis is legal.

TELL US, do you have hope for medical cannabis in the U.K.?

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