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Is Cannabis legalisation coming to the UK?

Denise Akinyemi

 

 Billy Caldwell, a severely epileptic 12-year-old from Co Tyrone, Northern Ireland, was left fighting for his life after the Home Office revoked his cannabis oil medication. Prior to confiscation, Charlotte his mother, travelled to Canada to purchase more of the oil after the Home Office initially banned Billy’s GP from prescribing it. The family had claimed after the administration of the illegal cannabis oil Billy had not had a fit in 250 days – until it was unceremoniously confiscated by the Home Office. 

Billy Caldwell 12 has severe epilepsy

Billy Caldwell 12 has severe epilepsy

Similarly, 6-year-old Alfie Dingley also suffers from a rare form of epilepsy with potentially 100 seizures occurring a month. According to doctors advise, a heart attack or psychosis are just a few health risks associated with treating him with intravenous steroids.  His mother spent £30,000 getting treatment for him with medical cannabis in the Netherlands; where it is legal. However, the family had no option but to return to the Uk after running out of money. Recently, his mother was given the promise of help from the prime minister after their recent meeting in Downing street- Yet the case has failed to meet a resolution.
 
After exhausting current NHS  prescribed treatments have proven to be ineffective. Both stories illustrate the immense hurdles families have and still endure to receive the right treatment. However, when the right treatment is regarded as the wrong form of treatment by legal definition; the fight no longer pertains to overcoming a hurdle but rather conquering a mountain. 
 
Cannabis Oil – The Heart of the controversy
For many sufferers of epilepsy, cannabis oil is a lifeline.  The drug comes in two elements: CBD and THC. CBD, otherwise known scientifically as cannabidiol is a chemical produced by the plant without psychoactive properties. Yet THC, the psychoactive component, is the feeling of high induced similar to smoking a joint. Although CBD is legal in the UK: NHS treatment is non-existent. Due to a lack of clinical trials, it has been classified as a food supplement rather than medicine. Meanwhile, people with the intention of using THC oil would need to obtain through non-legal measures, heightening the prospects of criminal misconduct. According to the law, the maximum penalty for possession is
five years in prison.  Both Billy and Aflie’s medicine, otherwise known as a full spectrum cannibal oil, contains CBD and THC- Both are illegal. Government pressure
 

The government’ denial associated with the benefits of medicinal cannabis oil, prevents sufferers use of the drug without the fear of legal implications. A safe and legal regulation of both CBD and THC not only benefits those in need additionally, the economic benefits are buoyant. Legalisation potentially could raise hundreds of millions of pounds in tax worthy  reinvestment into an existing underfunded NHS However, dis-acknowledgement of current cannabis research on the part of the government is based on a fear of contradicting government policies.  For example, In 2009 David Nutt was sacked as a government advisor for his comments in an academic journal regarding the dangers of ecstasy use: “Taking the drug is no more dangerous than horse riding”. Jacqui Smith, home secretary at the time ordered Nutt to apologise.  Yet, admittingly Peter Reynolds, president of Clear asserts “clinical evidence from countries including the Netherlands, America, Australia, Isreal and Canada have proven the many benefits of those suffering from some very debilitating conditions” While in the Uk a silent relaxation of drug policy in the last five years is apparent. The number of cannabis possession offences in England and Wales decreased since 2011; in light of police forces diverting cut budgets into tackling more serious criminal offences. According to data released after a freedom of information request from the BBC,  arrests had declined between 2010 and 2016 from 35,367 to 19,115. However, this is not attributed to a decline in drug use. Although illicit drug abuse has fallen dramatically since the turn of the first century, the National Crime Story tells a different story: levels of cannabis use since 2010 has remained the same. In 2010 the number of 16-59-year olds using the drug was 6.5% whereas in 2016 it was 6.7%.  Evidently, the tendency to overestimate the rational mind and our ability to analyse information objectively is a cause for concern. David Kahnem, author of “Thinking, Fast and Slow”  explains with the great amount of information processed by the brain, information which produces cognitive dissonance – stuff that does not make instinctive sense- is filtered out and disbanded. Whilst information which produces cognitive ease is accepted- This phenomenon is a depiction of the government. Unlike other countries introducing evidence-based reforms, the government appear to be paralysed against change, not because of the potential harm caused by the drug but rather for political popularity. If anything, UK drug policies cause more potential harm than cannabis use. 
 
Turning point
However, it appears the government are not experiencing complete cognitive dissonance as following the high profile cases of Billy Caldwell and Alfie Dingley; the home office has announced a review into the medicinal use of cannabis. The home secretary, Sajid Javid has stated: “if the review identified significant medical and therapeutic benefits than cannabis could be rescheduled for medicinal use”. Although both Theresa May and Sajid Javid have denounced talks of decriminalisation of recreational cannabis use.  It is evidently clear despite the Government’s reluctance to acknowledge the unharmful nature of cannabis the current climate seems to suggest the war on drugs or at least the war on cannabis has been tamed. With the ever-increasing scientific research into cannabis and public pressures placed on the government; there may come to a day where the government can no longer turn a blind eye. However, this review may not provide immediate respite the family of billy and Alfie are looking for but in the meantime, it is a starting point.  The argument for legalisation of cannabis will continue to be vocalised until the noise becomes deafeningly loud. After all, the government pretence of deafness has to come to an end sooner than later.
 
Denise Akinyemi
IG: denise_akinyemi