March 19, 2001 -
By JACK KASKEY
Staff Writer, (609) 272-7213
The medicinal use of cannabis should be legalised, a House of Lords report recommends.
The report, by the Lords select committee on science and technology, says that people who take cannabis to ease the symptoms of debilitating conditions such as multiple sclerosis should not live in fear of prosecution.
It also calls for research into developing cannabis-based medicines to be speeded up, and accuses the body that licenses new drugs of dragging its feet.
The Medicines Control Agency (MCA) is insisting that new data is made available on the possible toxic effects of cannabis.
But the Lords report says this data is not necessary, as cannabis has been used in medicine for hundreds of years.
It says the MCA stance could delay the introduction of cannabis-based medicines by up to three years.
No viable alternative
The Lords report said: "In the absence of a viable alternative medicine, and though we would not encourage smoking of cannabis, we consider it undesirable to prosecute genuine therapeutic users of cannabis who possess or grow cannabis for their own use.
"This unsatisfactory situation underlines the need to legalise cannabis preparations for therapeutic use."
There were 89,000 prosecutions involving cannabis in 1998, but it is not known how many of these people were taking the drug for medicinal purposes.
Two major trials into its therapeutic uses were recently given grants worth a total of £1.5m by the Medical Research Council.
But the Lords report criticised the slow pace of the studies and said the stigma surrounding cannabis was "inhibiting" research in the area.
In evidence to the Lords hearing, Home Office Minister Charles Clarke said the government would not stand in the way of an MCA-approved cannabis-based drug being prescribed by doctors.
The report said: "In effect, the minister assured us that once a safe, effective, cannabis-based medicine had been licensed by the MCA, the government would actively co-operate in permitting it to be prescribed."
But it also said: "We are concerned that the MCA's approach to the licensing of cannabis-based medicines ... could delay the approval of such medicines."
One company, G W Pharmaceuticals, has claimed they could have a cannabis-based prescription medicine available by 2003.
But the MCA's demand for new toxicology data could delay any launch by two to three years.
Claire Hodges, a multiple sclerosis sufferer and a member of the Alliance for Cannabis Therapeutics, said: "The report is recognising that there is a problem and we welcome that.
"At the moment, the law is a nonsense. People are prosecuted for using something that eases their pain and distress, which is appalling."
A Home Office statement said: "We are pleased to be able to approve the select committee's understanding of our desire to see the matter properly resolved through science and the efficacy of a medicinal form of cannabis being established scientifically."
He said the government approved research and clinical trials into using cannabis medicinally.
"If clinical trials
into cannabis are successful and lead to a medical preparation, which is
approved by the MCA, the government has made it clear it would be willing
to amend the misuse of drugs regulations to allow the prescription of such