View from Westminster

Few who have followed the case of 12 year old Billy Caldwell will not have felt angered by the action of Home Office officials, who confiscated his treatment for epilepsy when entering the country recently. Suffering from severe epilepsy, resulting in dozens of attacks a day, his parents took him to a country where a treatment based on cannabis was legal and, in Billy’s case, successful. But because our law in the UK is so outdated, and despite the UK being a pioneer in the development of medical cannabis, it is still illegal here. This is a hangover from the fact that cannabis is an illegal recreational drug.

The Home Office is dealing with this and the chief medical officer of the UK is now looking at cannabis oil use on a case by case basis. We are making some progress, but the absurd confusion between recreational use and controlled medical use is holding up progress.

Natural remedies are commonplace. Aspirin, used from curing a headache to controlling blood thickness for stroke victims, is fund in nature. Medicine has moved it along from chewing willow bark to alleviate a headache to handy, controlled and safe pills.

But in looking at medical use cannabis, there is the inevitable question of whether its recreational use should be legalised. The arguments are simple: legalise it and you control its safety; you squeeze out drug dealers and their menacing behaviour; we can collect taxes on it (that’ll help pay for the NHS’s recent funding boost!). All of these arguments, and more, are sound and with huge merit. Yet despite the obvious benefits of legalising cannabis, I can’t help feeling uncomfortable about it.

Would legalising controllable cannabis not lead to more people experimenting with high strength skunk that is known to create psychotic events and severe mental health issues? Might it lead people to experiment with even more dangerous drugs? Is this the thin end of the wedge, leading to legalising more and more drugs? Just because a lot of people break a law, does that mean we should legalise it?

I am clear that the nonsense of preventing cannabis from being researched, licensed and prescribed, in a derivative form, for medical use is a throwback to an unenlightened past. We must get on with this fast. But I am yet to be convinced that recreational use, despite good reasons for doing so, should be legalised. The debate is just getting under way.