22 April 2003
The Marlborough Express
It is significant that legalising cannabis for medical use is seriously being considered, writes The Marlborough Express in an editorial. It is somewhat surprising that this contentious issue has got as far as it has - it is before Parliament's health select committee and that's top level. More surprising is that the committee supports the ground-breaking move.
Debate on cannabis use always sparks controversy, with predictable reactions from the pro and anti lobbies. Those against legalising cannabis use express concern at the detrimental effects they believe it has, especially on young people. Those calling for its legalisation say the current law does not work and it would make more sense to decriminalise its use. However, this Government is not going to introduce wholesale decriminalisation of cannabis use because after the last election it struck a deal with United Future giving assurance that it would not, in return for the party's support.
The move being considered is not blanket decriminalisation, it is to specifically allow cannabis to be prescribed for medical use. United Future is unlikely to support that either because it sees it as a move towards softening drug laws and use. However, the debate will go on, and it needs more than just kneejerk reactions.
The parliamentary committee sees merit in the change, and wants to see the outcome of research trials in Britain to determine the benefits of cannabis use for medical purposes. These could be pivotal - one study involves 660 multiple sclerosis patients - and if successful will provide the ammunition medical users want to convince the legislators to make the change.
The move being considered is similar to those made last year which have allowed the trial cultivation of hemp. Authorities including the police resisted the importation of hemp seed, concerned that it could be used as a cover for cannabis cultivation. It has been a breakthrough to allow the trials and these are being assessed. A similar change in attitude could allow use of cannabis for medical use.
Genuine users of cannabis for medical purposes do not want to be criminals, they are not doing it to break the law, they maintain cannabis has medical benefits, particularly in pain relief. Other drugs are available but some patients say the side effects are unpleasant. For genuine users there must be some sympathy, and it is reasonable that the claims of the medical benefits are at least researched. It is not that cannabis use as a medicine is new, cannabis tincture used to be prescribed in Britain, but it has not been scientifically assessed.
If the studies are convincing, the health committee will have to consider
how medicinal cannabis use can be controlled and monitored so that it is
not abused. It is unlikely that patients would be allowed to have cannabis
plants, rather cannabis would be prescribed in tablet form so it could
be tightly controlled, and it would have to registered as a medicine under
the Medicines Act. Science, not prejudice, should be the decider.
Copyright © 2003, The Marlborough Express