Cannabis laws in the United Kingdom are under attack by members of parliament, who are now criticizing the rules. After a boy with epilepsy suffered his first seizure in 300 days because of the government, who had ordered his physician to refrain from prescribing potentially life-saving marijuana oil to him, they are calling for urgent reform.
Charlotte Caldwell, the boy’s mother, says her son Billy, 12, has multiple seizures on a daily basis if he does not use cannabis oil. On Monday, customs agents seized his medicine from her at Heathrow Airport. Caldwell, who received no caution for attempting to “openly smuggle” the oil into the United Kingdom from Canada, was instead invited to the Home Office.
While there, she met Nick Hurd, the minister of state, who gave her the news that she would not be getting it back. The move prompted criticism on a large scale. The new all-party parliamentary group, which includes the Tory MP, Dan Poulter, and the former justice minister, Mike Penning, are restating a pledge made recently to make policy recommendations that would fix the situation as soon as possible.
They are just two among a growing group of increasingly vocal MPs from across the political divide, all of whom are supporting the legalization of medical marijuana. Former co-chair of the all-parliamentary group on drug policy reform and former prisons minister, Crispin Blunt, said, “Billy Caldwell is one child out of many hundreds, as well as many thousands of adults, who would benefit from cannabis-derived medicines in the UK.”
Blunt went on to explain, “We already happily accept the medicinal value of other plants, such as poppies, which can be used to create effective opioid painkillers and morphine, as well as heroin. Seventy-five percent of the British public support medical cannabis and the UK are, ironically, the world’s largest producer and exporter of legal cannabis.”
Additionally, Blunt added, “It is inconceivable that the Home Office continues to deny the medicines that Alfie and countless other patients so desperately need, yet can access in many other countries, including Canada, the United States and several EU states.” Currently, people are buying their cannabis-derived medications from other countries and bringing it back with them.
“A simple statutory instrument in Parliament will allow families out of the current absurd position of having to either expatriate themselves, or obtain cannabis illegally and face a prison sentence for caring for their own,” Blunt continued. Poulter, who is also a part-time mental health doctor with the National Health Service, also supports legalization efforts.
Poulter reiterates that there is increasingly strong evidence that medicinal cannabis can and does improve the lives of people suffering from a myriad of serious conditions, including epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and even those patients enduring chemotherapy and its related side effects, such as nausea, pain and loss of appetite.
“When there is growing evidence of the benefits of prescribing medicinal cannabis, then it seems extraordinary that we cannot do so,” Poulter said. “The legitimate medical needs of patients are being seen through the prism of drugs legislation from 1971. That cannot be right, sensible or humane.” He is correct, as science proves how outdated decades-old legislation is and how prohibition harms people.
“As a doctor,” Poulter continued, “I can prescribe opioids and benzodiazepines to my patients, which are illegal street drugs, but thanks to the current law, I am unable to prescribe medicinal cannabis products to the patients who need them, despite an increasingly compelling medical case to allow me to do so.” It seems abhorrent that dangerous drugs are permissible, yet a harmless plant is not.
Poulter voiced the thoughts of countless others, “The law needs to change, which is why I am working with other doctors in the Parliament, across all parties, to present evidence to Government and to ensure that patients who can benefit from medically prescribed cannabis will be able to do so in the future.”
The government remains steadfast in its position, which is that, despite a growing body of evidence in contradiction, cannabis has no medical value. Last year, a physician in Northern Ireland prescribed cannabis oil to Caldwell, which stopped his life-endangering seizures from occurring. However, the Home Office recently ordered him to stop taking it.
According to Órfhlaith Begley, the MP for West Tyrone, which incorporates Castlederg, the area where the Caldwell’s live, “This case highlights the need for urgent legislative reform to deal with medicinal cannabis where it is legally recommended.” Elected in a May by-election, the MP understands that Caldwell broke the law to save her child and prevent his life-threatening seizures.
“Charlotte told me this morning that Billy had a seizure on Monday night, which is heartbreaking,” Begley said. “I do not support breaking the law, but I can appreciate the difficult actions Charlotte has had to take as a mother.” Currently, a cure for childhood epilepsy does not exist. Various treatments are only able to improve quality of life and reduce frequency of seizures for sufferers.
Anti-epilepsy drugs that the NHS currently prescribes have nasty side effects. They often cause uncontrollable tremors, rashes, swollen gums and hair loss. Studies show marijuana-derived anti-epilepsy medicines transforming the lives of people living with the condition. Doctors prescribe it in other parts of the world, including Canada, which is where Caldwell got her son’s six-month supply.
In speaking with the Guardian, Caldwell said, “Billy had a seizure this morning. It is proof to me that, on the first day since his anti-epileptic medication was confiscated; it is having a detrimental effect on him. The consequences inevitably for Billy will not be good. He is heading towards a crisis situation.” Science shows that every seizure can damage the brain just a little more, eventually causing major problems.
“Without that anti-epileptic medication, my little boy will die,” Caldwell continued. “That is the situation we are in. Nick Hurd, who planned the confiscation of my son’s life-saving medication, has signed Billy’s death warrant.” This may seem like an exaggeration from a worried mother, but with every epileptic fit Billy has, the risk of death creeps ever closer.
A spokesperson at the Home Office said, “The Home Office is sympathetic to the difficult and rare situation that Billy and his family are faced with. Whilst we recognize that people with debilitating illnesses are looking to alleviate their symptoms, Border Force has a duty to stop banned substances from entering the United Kingdom.”