No access to NHS cannabis?

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has called on the medical profession to allow patients access to cannabis medicines and leading police chiefs say users should not be criminalised.

In March, the Government missed its own deadline to declare how many patients have secured medical cannabis – the number is believed to be little more than a dozen, with these almost exclusively written by private doctors.

Carly Barton, from Brighton, saw her NHS doctor write the first prescription for cannabis but this was unanimously rejected by the Brighton Medical Governance Group due to ‘insufficient evidence’ it would alleviate her chronic pain.

This prescription would have superseded her private one, which was costing in the region of £1,300 a month, and this has subsequently led to the launch of ‘Carly’s Amnesty’ (https://www.carlysamnesty.org/).

Those participating must sign a statement that they are being treated by a specialist clinician, have at least one symptom listed by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence for cannabis- based medicine, and have been denied access to medical cannabis. They must promise to grow no more than nine plants and must do so in a private place, such as a garage, attic or back garden, and inform their local police.

Ms Barton said: “I am going to openly break the law until I can access my medicine or they give me some kind of exemption…(but) I do not see myself as a criminal.”

Meanwhile, also in April, the National Police Chiefs’ Council spokesman on drugs, Cleveland Police’s assistant chief constable Jason Harwin, said forces should make their own decisions on prosecuting cannabis users.

He said: “There is strong evidence to suggest that recommending minor offenders for early intervention treatment instead of pursuing convictions can prevent re-offending and result in the best outcome for both the user and the criminal justice system. It is a matter for chief constables, in liaison with their police and crime commissioners, to determine operational priorities.” He said that chief constables would continue to pursue the ‘drug gangsters’.

Possession of a Class B drug, such as cannabis, can lead to a five-year prison sentence and an unlimited fine. Growing or dealing cannabis can bring 14 years’ jail. Health Secretary Matt Hancock waded into the debate telling the House of Commons:

“We changed the law to make sure medicinal cannabis is available on a mainstream basis. When that’s the case we need clinical sign off. The problem is that clinical sign off has not been forthcoming. That’s a source of immense frustration to me as I hope you can imagine, and that is what we are trying to resolve.”

His intervention followed the case of Teagan Appleby, nine, whose cannabis medication was seized by the Border Force at Southend Airport on her return from Holland. Mum, Emma Appleby, later secured the release of the medication; Teagan has a rare chromosomal disorder and suffers from around 300 seizures a day.