Paul Flynn: Arguments in favour of relegalising medical cannabis are ‘irresistible’
It’s time to end the cruelty of medicine denial and criminalisation to the seriously ill, writes Paul Flynn
It was a remarkable sight. Hundreds of seriously ill people gathered for a “cannabis tea party” outside Parliament on 10 October 2017, breaking a law in full view of the police. No action was taken. The law is an ass, held in contempt by patients and public and now unenforceable.
The Welsh Assembly supported a call from a Tory AM to relegalise medicinal cannabis by 31 votes to two. Opinion polls agree with similar majorities.
In 1971 the UK parliament adopted Europe’s harshest drugs prohibition to eliminate all illegal drug use. Then we had 1,000 drugs addicts. Now we have more than 300,000. We have spent billions of pounds and inflicted misery on millions, creating chaos in our prisons. The Netherlands’ pragmatic drug policies have given them a unique prison crisis - a shortage of prisoners. They have closed 19 prisons and have no alternative uses for them.
Until 1973 tinctures of cannabis had been medically available for over 100 years in the UK. In its natural form, it has been used for 5,000 years as a medicine in all continents.
The legal use of cannabis is now being increasingly re-established worldwide. Twenty-nine of the USA’s 50 states have provision for the supply of medicinal cannabis. In Canada, it has also been legalised. In Europe, medicinal cannabis is produced in the Netherlands and is available in Italy, Finland, Switzerland and Germany.
In 1999 here, a jury sought to be compassionate to a wheelchair-bound cannabis user. They asked the judge if they could disregard a law they all thought was unjust. The judge ruled that only Parliament decides. The court was forced to convict. Injustices were meted out as Parliament continued to dodge its responsibility and failed to reform.
My Bill is being promoted by the Multiple Sclerosis Society and the United Patients Alliance. They are asking for freedom to use their drugs of choice in the safest ways - not mixed with the killer drug tobacco. The Bill is a simple one to move cannabis from a schedule that defines the drug as of no medicinal benefit to a second schedule that would permit its use for therapeutic reasons.
Our present law forces users on to the black market where the most hazardous forms of the drugs are marketed by irresponsible dealers and consumed in the most dangerous ways. A police officer forced into early retirement by multiple sclerosis had no choice but to buy her cannabis from the petty criminals she once locked up. Others have solved their supply problems by importing seeds from Amsterdam and growing their own. For this victimless ‘crime’, parliament’s law is still punishable by years of imprisonment. The police and prosecutors are doing parliament’s work for us by ignoring the law. The law has been ridiculed but it’s still the law.
I have never used an illegal drug. In my 30 years in parliament I have campaigned against harmful drugs of Seroxat, Vioxx and I now chair a campaign opposed to growing menace of opioid abuse. In the 29 US states that have liberalised cannabis use, deaths from opioid abuse have halved. However, the evidence of the Israeli Ben-Gurion University report is that the therapeutic use of cannabis is safe and efficacious in their elderly population. They report reduced pain in 93% of a group of 3000 patients in a three-year trial.
The researchers analysed 2,736 people aged over 65 who received medical cannabis between January 2015 and October 2017 in specialized marijuana clinics.
The arguments are now irresistible. Recent parliamentary debates have been dominated by those who believe that prohibition has failed. I hope my party will be the first major one to adopt policies that escape from the evidence-free, prejudice errors of the past 50 years. It’s time to end the cruelty of medicine denial and criminalisation to the seriously ill.
Paul Flynn is Labour MP for Newport West. The second reading of the Legalisation of Cannabis (Medicinal Purposes) Bill is on Friday 23 February