Tomorrow marks a very important day for the future of medical cannabis in the United Kingdom.
Paul Flynn MP will be presenting the #ElizbethBriceBill for the legalisation of cannabis for medical purposes in a parliamentary reading. This will be the second time that the bill has been discussed in Commons and has gained significant momentum over the past few weeks.
Media coverage and unwavering campaigning from Paul Flynn, other MP’s and supporting organisations has seen the bill rise from relative obscurity to become one of the most anticipated readings in parliament this year.
Jon Leibling, the political director of the United Patient’s Alliance, spoke exclusively to Seedsman about the bill and the protest that is organised outside parliament tomorrow.
Do you believe that the #ElizabethBriceBill has a greater chance of success than any previous governmental bills on the topic of medical cannabis? How has this fared in comparison to other bills?
Within parliament there has never been as much support for any bill in relation to cannabis as medicine for as long as I can remember. When the bill passed first reading, the home office representative actually wished Paul Flynn every success in achieving his goals and that the government would be looking at it closely. This is simply unheard of. The bill also has the direct support of a charity – the MS Society, which is also very new.
Does the bill represent a change in governmental opinion on medical cannabis?
We know that government ministers have taken an active interest in the rescheduling of cannabis for medical purposes and we have even had a current senior minister asking for details on why they should look at it again!
What would the rescheduling of cannabis actually mean for those suffering in the United Kingdom?
Raw cannabis’ current status as a ‘schedule 1’ substance defining it as having no recognised medical or therapeutic benefit, causes a huge number of problems. Doctors cannot talk about it without risk to their license to practise, nor can they be officially taught about it. Charities cannot engage with the subject without fear of losing their status. It makes doing research significantly harder, longer and more expensive due to licenses and security and material required.
A change to ANY other schedule will address all of the above immediately and opens up the possibility of amending a couple of import regulations in order to allow doctors to prescribe it to patients and for that prescription to be fulfilled in UK pharmacies who can import high quality pharmaceutical grade cannabis from approved sources (Eg: Bedrocan, Tilray, Tikun Olam or others).
As Political Director of the UPA, what do you believe the future looks like for medical cannabis in the UK?
I believe change is now inevitable, but it is vitally important that we continue to assert pressure and campaign for the things we want and the end state we all hope for. I suspect that the UK will change slowly, as it always does, and in the first instance there are likely to be restrictions we do not agree with. But as with every other implementation around the world – this first step is absolutely necessary and then we can push for more. Personal possession and personal Grow Your Own are two speficic areas where there is more work to be done – but the powers that be are listening.
How could you best convince someone who disagrees with the bill that the laws desperately need changing?
It is estimated that up to 1.1m people in the UK consume cannabis primarily for medical reasons. Most, if not all these patients with chronic conditions have no better choice of treatment. It is simply cruel to prevent access and I would say it was criminal to threaten them with a criminal record. We need to show compassion.
How are the UPA supporting the bill?
As with the first protest on October 10th, United Patients Alliance are organising the protest in support of the bill. In addition we are lobbying many many MPs, the MSSociety, celebrities and many medical professionals to attend in support. All out Trustees and Patrons are helping too. We cannot make announcements yet but we have some very high profile VIPs attending this time.
Is Paul Flynn a minority figure in parliament regarding his support of cannabis rescheduling?
The last internal and official poll of MP’s in the commons, asking whether they support medical access to cannabis – 68% were in favour. He has stood up for this cause in the House over 100 times in his 35 years as an MP – I think he now has the best support he has ever had.
Whose job should it be to promote safe consumption of cannabis medicinally?
I believe that is a responsibility that should be shared by all those involved. Whilst UPA do a great deal of work promoting safer consumption, we need to see this echoed across every group. Ultimately, medical professionals should be giving this information to patients. However, medical professionals have a great deal of learning to do before they have the skills and knowledge to do so effectively. The sooner we get cannabis out of schedule 1, the quicker this can start to happen.
Should people speak to their Doctors regarding medicinal cannabis?
From the #UPASurvey of medical cannabis patients in 2016, it showed that around 28% of doctors are vocally and actively supportive, another 40% are not concerned. This is great news and suggests that telling your doctor is likely to be a positive experience. We have heard of no cases whatsoever of a doctor reporting a patient’s use to the authorities and at the end of the day, it is of vital importance that your doctor is consulted about what you are consuming – at least so he can make better decisions about your overall care and whether there are issues with other medication they may wish to prescribe. We are concerned that around 40% of patients do not discuss their cannabis consumption with their doctor.
We strongly recommend that patients do, especially as this also helps with mitigation should you have any legal issues. Sentences are reduced when your medical use is captured in your medical notes.
Should cannabis medicine be available pharmaceutically and/or legalised for home cultivation?
We support legal access to cannabis therapeutics in any and all ways that a patients wishes. We support those who just want easier access to a pharmaceutical such as Sativex right through to supporting those who wish to be self sufficient by growing and producing their own medicine. As long as there are sensible and evidence based regulations to assure quality, safety and to protect children, home cultivation should be allowed, or course.
If you wish to attend the Patients at Parliament Protest tomorrow, click here for more information.
Jon Liebling is political director of United Patients Alliance, which campaigns for a United Kingdom in which patients can legally access medical cannabis to treat their chronic conditions. Jon has suffered from Anxiety and Depression for most of his adult life and finds cannabis to be the most effective medicine. It was after being arrested for home cultivation a few years ago that he decided it was time for him to join the fight with UPA.