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MPs call for legalisation of cannabis oil

They say case of epileptic boy Billy Caldwell highlights need for reform

Mark Gould

Monday, 18 June 2018

A growing chorus of MPs are calling for the legalisation of medicinal cannabis containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) after a U-turn by the Home Secretary allowed a severely epileptic boy from Northern Ireland to receive the treatment.

Sir Mike Penning, the MP leading an all-party group looking at medical cannabis, has called the existing laws "bizarre and cruel" and is calling for "fundamental reform" of the system.

"Medical cannabis is a health issue, not a misuse of drugs issue," Sir Mike, who is the proposed chair of the new all-party parliamentary group on Medical Cannabis Under Prescription, said in a statement. "It's about patients and relieving suffering."

Over the weekend, Crispin Blunt, the co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Drug Policy Reform, said the existing law was "frankly absurd". And former Conservative health minister Dan Poulter said the current situation was "ridiculous" and he said he would push for an urgent change in the law.

He said: "I genuinely don't understand why we see... medicinal cannabis through the prism of the 1971 Misuse of Drugs legislation, when actually this is a medical issue, it's not a prohibition of drugs issue, and that's what's got to change."

In 2017, Billy Caldwell, then 12, was prescribed the medication on the NHS. But in May this year, his GP was told he could no longer prescribe it. At the time the Department of Health in Northern Ireland said cannabis had not yet been licensed in the UK as a medicine.

Last Monday, officials at Heathrow airport confiscated Billy's cannabis oil, which his mother Charlotte had been attempting to bring into the UK from Canada.

Ms Caldwell says her son's seizures dramatically reduce when he takes the oil, which contains THC which is illegal in the UK.

Following the confiscation, Billy was admitted to hospital in London after his seizures "intensified".

His condition led to Home Secretary Sajid Javid later approving the return of some of the cannabis oil, after doctors made clear it was a medical emergency.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme this morning, Ms Caldwell said her son was responding well to the treatment which is being provided under special license at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, and she called for the medication to be made legal. "I will not stand by and let any other family in our country endure this experience. It's horrific and cruel."

Dr Amir Englund, of the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London, said an exemption should be made in Billy's case "so that he does not come to further harm". But psychiatrist Dr Michael Bloomfield from University College London, said the use of medical marijuana is "far from straightforward". He said in some jurisdictions the drug's use for medical conditions is "a potential way of decriminalising cannabis through the back door".

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