Tonia Antoniazzi MP & Mike Penning MP: Medicinal cannabis is far from legalised yet
Co-chairs of the newly established All-Party Parliamentary Group for Medicinal Cannabis call on Sajid Javid to continue to act swiftly on the issue of medicinal cannabis and allow whole plant cannabis oils to be available under prescription in the UK so long as they are manufactured to the well regarded Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) standard.
The high-profile cases of Alfie Dingley, Billy Caldwell and Sophia Gibson have proven instrumental in delivering a comprehensive overhaul of Government policy. Whether the government will commit to allow medical cannabis to be prescribed routinely by GPs to patients with a wide range of conditions, remains to be seen.
While political progress in recent months has been greatly encouraging, we have reason to hold very serious and pressing concerns based on reading the ‘small print’ of some of the advice being put forward to Ministers from the various government-commissioned expert reviews. If not addressed, these concerns could easily lead to the great political progress to date feeling more like a false dawn than the truly fundamental breakthrough that we seek on behalf of patients, many of whom are in great need.
The advice from the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) last Thursday recommended that only particular medical cannabis products should be moved out of schedule 1 to schedule 2, which will allow them to be prescribed by clinicians. We are concerned that by ‘particular’ they mean only certain constituent parts of the whole plant extract. And we are further concerned that they will then insist on full pharmaceutical trials for these limited products which will be lengthy and costly.
This will effectively shut the door on the full plant extracted oils now commonly available in many countries. Indeed, some of these are the very products now used by Alfie Dingley and Sophia Gibson.
An insistence from the experts advising the Government on such a narrow solution will leave many thousands of people suffering from severe pain, MS, Crohn’s, Fibromyalgia and other conditions.
And accepting this ACMD advice as it is currently framed will lead to a very real risk of this becoming another case of ‘big pharma’ holding the NHS to ransom as the requirement for full clinical trials will push up costs and prices. And there are concerns from expert clinicians too that drugs such as the new epilepsy product about to be fully licenced which is wholly CBD (and doesn’t contain THC), is not as effective for some children with epilepsy as the wholeplant extract containing both CBD and THC.
The ACMD also advise that medical cannabis should only be considered for “patients with an exceptional clinical need”. We challenge this, as there is a great deal of evidence from around the world that shows efficacy for a wide range of conditions. Medical cannabis may not always be the first option for a patient, but neither should it be the last.
Legalising a small subset of “cannabis-based products” in cases of “exceptional clinical need” will not deliver what we seek, and what we think Ministers want to achieve ie legalised access to medical cannabis under prescription from a medical professional.
The Government should be more ambitious than the ACMD and follow the examples of other progressive nations, such as the Netherlands, Germany and Canada. Many people are getting in touch with their MPs to ask them about how they or a loved one can obtain a license through the new expert medical panel that was set up as an interim measure.
The truth is that getting an application through this panel is no small task. So we are calling on Sajid Javid to continue to act swiftly, but to put the ACMD advice in the context of experience and evidence from around the world. By doing so, we hope he will be bold enough to allow whole plant cannabis oils to be available under prescription in the UK so long as they are manufactured to the well regarded Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) standard. This will avert a potential ‘false dawn’, reduce the chance of the issue being held hostage by ‘big pharma’ and help thousands of people access the medical cannabis that can greatly improve their quality of life.
Tonia Antoniazzi is the Labour MP for Gower & Rt Hon Sir Mike Penning is the Conservative MP for Hemel Hempstead. They are co-chairs of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Medicinal Cannabis.