On July 26, Sajid Javid, the Home Secretary of the United Kingdom, announced that the UK would look into the medical potential of cannabis-derived medicines with the aim of potentially rescheduling certain preparations later this year.

Javid’s decision may be said to have been helped by publicity similar to that which helped Ashley Surin in the United States. News stories about the plight of children afflicted by severe types of epilepsy, and the relief from their symptoms that has been brought by cannabis-based medicine, have prompted lawmakers in both countries to relax laws against such medicines. In the UK, stories about Sophia Gibson, Billy Caldwell, and Alfie Dingley have influenced public opinion to favor the need of desperate parents and suffering children over the animus of politicians against marijuana. Javid, for example, is a member of the Conservative Party, whose official position on drugs favors prohibition, abstinence programs for addicts, and random drug testing of prisoners. The party’s leader, Theresa May, recently voiced her opposition to medical cannabis, saying it could be a “gateway” to harder drugs.  

On the other hand, stories of the afflicted children and their parents may be bringing change to the UK’s Conservative Party. After the government took Sophia Gibson’s medicine, her seizures grew so bad that she was put on life support. Billy Caldwell was, in the words of his mother, placed under “hospital arrest” to prevent treatment with a cannabis oil, which had been confiscated upon arrival at a London airport. According to the BBC, a petition to Javid to grant a license for Alfie Dingley received 370,000 signatures.

Javid’s name has been mentioned as a possible successor to May, and his decision on medical cannabis may be a signal of more change to come. William Hague, another Conservative politician, has called the War on Drugs a failure and that the current classification of marijuana as having no medical use is “inappropriate, ineffective and utterly out of date.”

In Both Nations, Marijuana Is a Schedule 1 Drug

As in the United States, in the UK, cannabis is categorized by law as having no medicinal value. Moreover, the same term is used in both countries: cannabis in the UK is also a schedule 1 drug there, although the name of the law behind the schedule is different. In the UK the law is the Misuse of Drugs Act. In the United States, it is the Controlled Substance Act under which marijuana is classified as a schedule 1 drug with no medical value.

A review into the medical potential of cannabis is underway in the UK, and is expected to result in certain preparations rescheduled from schedule 1 to schedule 2, thereby allowing doctors to prescribe them legally. Previously, the response of the UK government to the requests of activists to relax its stance against cannabis-based medicine was to increase the existing restrictions, for example making it illegal not only for doctors but also for veterinarians to make, supply, or administer cannabis-based drugs.

A few licenses granted only after public outcry may only show that the UK’s Conservative party is being dragged, rather than taking the lead, toward reform. On the other hand, when a few Conservative voices and policies depart from such concepts as “gateway drug,” a greater number may follow.

What do you think? Will the Conservatives retire the War on Drugs? Leave a comment below.

About the Author: Eric Howard

Eric Howard, who lives in Los Angeles, is a staff writer for Marijuana and the Law. His most recent book, Taliban Beach Party, appeared in 2017.

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