Drug Laws Update
decision has been taken on whether to allow cannabis
to be used for medical purposes, a Downing
Street spokeswoman said. Reports suggested the Prime
Minister Tony Blair, Home Se cretary Jack Straw
and Cabinet Office Minister Mo Mowlam had agreed a deal
to allow the illegal drug's use. However, a No 10 spokeswoman
said the Prime Minister would be waiting to find out
what the clinical trials revealed. "He's not going to
agree to anything before he has got the results of the
trials," said the spokeswoman. "It is not the case that
the Prime Minister has made any deal or made any decision,"
the spokeswoman added.
that Mowlam has dropped her demand for a Royal Commission
on cannabis legalisation in return for Blair and Straw
agreeing to make it legal for people needing relief
Such a review
could have paved the way for possessing cannabis for
personal use to be decriminalised. But Mr Blair and
Mr Straw have rejected the idea, arguing that any weakening
of the government stance could encourage young people
to experiment with soft drugs and then, they believe,
to move onto hard drugs. But senior government sources
said yesterday that Ms Mowlam will win her battle to
allow cannabis to be used legally for therapeutic purposes.
''It is a trade-off,'' a Home Office source said. ''Mo
will get the OK for medicinal use but she won't get
is being carried out for the Department of Health into
whether the active ingredients of cannabis can be used
by patients to relieve severe pain.. An official three-year
research project now under way is expected to validate
the drug's use for medical purposes.
yesterday insisted no decision had been made ahead of
the research findings. But sources said it would be
virtually impossible not to legalise cannabis for medical
uses if the research says it can help.
courts are growing increasingly reluctant to punish
medical users caught in possession and several police
chiefs, including two Scots chief constables, have called
for its medical use to be legalised. Even the Government-backed
Scotland Against Drugs campaign supports decriminalisation
for its use in illnesses.
spokeswoman said: "The Minister has said before that
this issue will have to be looked at if the research
finds that cannabis helps · and that there are no side-effects."
for cannabis legalisation for medical purposes was fuelled
in November 1988 when the House of Lords science committee
said doctors should be allowed to prescribe it. Doctors
have already urged the government to allow cannabis
to be used for medical purposes - the British Medical
Association's board of science declared in 1997 that
there was evidence that the drug could help muscle spasm
in patients with MS. There was also limited evidence
of benefits for patients with epilepsy, glaucoma, asthma,
high blood pressure and weight loss caused by AIDS.
doctors have warned that raw cannabis can be harmful
- tar levels are three times higher than in cigarettes
and new research has suggested that smoking four cannabis
joints causes as much lung damage as 20 cigarettes.
into the medical use of cannabis were announced last
year. A Medical Research Council study is looking at
its effects on 660 patients with multiple sclerosis.
A second trial by GW Pharmaceuticals, into its effects
on 2,000 patients with MS, spinal cord injuries and
chronic pain started this month.
trials MS patients are being given extract of cannabis
known as tetrahydrocannabinol, used in the UK for over
30 years to treat nausea in cancer patients. Tests on
muscle stiffness and mobility will be made every few
weeks on the sufferers to measure exactly what help
Medical Association and a House of Lords select committee
have backed human trials, and further pressure for a
relaxation of the law for therapeutic use came when
the Police Foundation published the results of a two-year
study into the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act. The independent
inquiry, which enjoys semi-official status at the Home
Office, recommended that people should no longer be
jailed for possessing cannabis for their own use and
that ecstasy should be downgraded from its present status
as a Class A drug to Class B.
Ramsay, of Scotland Against Drugs, said: "We take the
same line as the House of Lords. If there are conditions
where cannabis is shown to help, then we support its
decriminalisation for those purposes. We would prefer
to see it in a non-smokable form and it doesn't alter
our opposition to its use for recreational purposes.
But if it can be shown to have a use for people in pain
then we would not want to deny them that."
for the MS society said last night: "We have never supported
the criminalisation of MS sufferers who use cannabis
and have called on the courts to treat people prosecuted
for it with understanding. What we know from anecdotal
evidence is that many MS sufferers say cannabis gives
them relief from pain which is not available anywhere
anti-drugs groups believe the legalisation of cannabis
for medical purposes would open the door to a full-scale
anti-drugs campaigner Maxie Richards insisted: "There
is no actual proof that cannabis has any beneficial
effect on MS suffers not available from prescription
drugs. If we were to legalise its use even for limited
use, it would send out entirely the wrong signal to
young people that it was acceptable to dabble in drugs.
Young people need to be protected. Ninety-eight per
cent of the heroin addicts who approach me for help
say they started on cannabis. That tells its own story."
Fife Chief Constable John Hamilton said GPs should be
able to prescribe cannabis for MS sufferers. Last December,
Central Scotland Police Chief Constable William Wilson
said: "I'm convinced cannabis can bring relief to people
suffering from illnesses like MS."
four Labour MPs tabled a Commons motion urging the Government
to allow the therapeutic use of cannabis, speed up the
human trials and order the police not to prosecute people
with MS, Aids, arthritis and the relief of severe pain
who use the drug with their doctor's permission. They
said sufferers should not be "forced on to the streets
to purchase illegal drugs or face an omnipresent threat
of prosecution which puts the sick and dying on the
front line of the war on drugs". The MPs want people
to be allowed to use raw cannabis until a drug using
its active chemicals, called cannabinoids, has been
But the BMA
has reservations about raw cannabis because some of
its properties are harmful. Tar levels are three times
the level of cigarettes, and new research suggests that
smoking four joints causes as much lung damage as 20
who last month admitted smoking marijuana as a student
in the Seventies, has backed calls by Keith Hellawell,
the Government's anti-drugs co-ordinator, for the police
to concentrate their efforts on the war against hard
drugs such as heroin and cocaine. Her comments are said
to have gone down badly in Downing Street and the Home
Belfast Telegraph (UK), Irish Independent (Ireland)
: Andrew Grice, Scotsman (UK) : Jenny Percival, Political
Correspondent, Independent, The (UK) : Andrew Grice,
Political Editor, Daily Record and Sunday Mail (UK)