Paul Flynn: End this cruelty and allow the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes

Posted On: 
2nd July 2018

It’s time to show some compassion to thousands of patients who could benefit from medical cannabis, says Paul Flynn

Charlotte Caldwell and her son Billy
Credit: 
PA Images

Outrage at the barbaric obscenity of a customs officer seizing the life-saving medicine of a child will propel a major reform. Legal relief from pain and seizures will be available for the first time in 50 years to tens of thousands of British patients. It offers the best protection against a British epidemic of opioid deaths which could be avoided. British law could at last be science and evidence-based, free from the crippling prejudice of the recent past.

Alfie Dingley was the first high profile case in which cannabis was requested to treat a child’s epileptic seizures. Alfie had up to 3,000 seizures and 48 hospital visits in just one year. After a public outcry, Hannah Deacon, Alfie’s mother received personal assurances from The Prime Minister that Alfie would receive his medicine. Three months later after surmounting numerous hurdles, Alfie can have his medicine of choice, but for a mere 20 days.

The television pictures of Billy Caldwell pierced all our hearts. In disbelief, we heard Billy Caldwell’s mum say doctors told her to inject the boy with morphine and let him slip away.

Charlotte Caldwell says she was given repeated chances to euthanize her son – and take comfort from the fact his brain could be used for medical research. She alleges one doctor approached her with a syringe driver to pump morphine into little Billy and told her it “would all be over in a moment”. Charlotte feared leaving her baby alone during a 16-week stay in Hospital.

The explosion of parliamentary anger forced Sajid Javid’s announcement of a government review of the scheduling of cannabis medicines. The commission would first have experts look at the evidence for the medical benefits of cannabis. Then government advisors will recommend what products might be rescheduled. There is impressive evidence of the value of cannabis relieving the symptoms of epilepsy and multiple sclerosis.

The Home Secretary said: “I’ve now come to the conclusion that it is time to review the scheduling of cannabis.”

There’s an additional reason why my Bill will be of great value. US States that have approved medical cannabis laws saw a dramatic reduction in opioid use, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Georgia. The Journal of the American Medical Association, found in states with medical cannabis dispensaries there was a 14.4% reduction in use of prescription opioids and a 7% reduction in opiate prescriptions filled in states with home-cultivation medical cannabis laws. More than forty thousand annual deaths from opioids, mostly prescribed, have alarmed even President Trump. There is evidence that the same pattern of opioid overuse and increasing deaths could be repeated here. Using the ancient safer mild alternative would avoid future British tragedies.

The UK’s international status on drugs is irrational and old-fashioned. Dozens of countries in Europe and the Americas are benefiting from science-based reforms. Canada is the first G7 nation to permit a nationwide marijuana market. In the USA 30 states allow for medical use.

The UK is in the embarrassing position of producing 44% of the world’s medicinal cannabis yet forbids its use here.

Diane Abbott MP, Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary, announced a significant change. For the first time since 1971 one of the two major parties has supported the legal prescription of cannabis oil for medical purposes. She said: “A number of recent heart-breaking cases have highlighted a failure of Government policy. Children have been put at risk and experienced extraordinary suffering because this Government drags its heels and refuses to grant cannabis oil licences. This must not continue. Labour in government will allow the legal prescription of cannabis oil for medical purposes. We will also review drugs policy to address all issues of public health. The Government should stop being so heavy-handed and bureaucratic and put the welfare of children first.”

Two mass acts of civil disobedience outside Parliament have proved that medicinal cannabis prohibition is unenforceable. On July 6th Parliament can trigger a rational, compassionate and practical reform. 

 

Paul Flynn is Labour MP for Newport West. The second reading of the Legalisation of Cannabis (Medicinal Purposes) Bill is on Friday 6 July