According to recent estimates there are over 1m patients in the UK who consume cannabis regularly and primarily as a medicine and the evidence that it is efficacious for several medical conditions is now very strong: Check out the very best and latest summary from practising Consultant Neurologist and UPA Trustee, Professor Mike Barnes here: Medical Evidence

It is illogical to continue categorising the drug under Schedule 1 of the Misuse of Drugs Act. 

Schedule 1 Drugs:

Drugs belonging to this schedule are defined as having no therapeutic value and therefore cannot be lawfully possessed or prescribed. These include LSD, MDMA (ecstasy) and cannabis. Schedule 1 drugs may be used for the purposes of research but a Home Office licence is required.

One of the main impacts of Schedule 1 is to make research into the benefits of cannabis all but impossible for most and I saw this for myself whilst working at Cancer Research UK in 2013:

A project was proposed to investigate the oncological potential for cannabis: The project was initially costed at £150k and would take approximately 2 years to complete. However, once all  the additional time and costs for getting a license, implementing the required security and sourcing the precise materials/cannabis that was required to run the project had been added, it would now take more than 4 years and would cost over £320k! So the project was rejected - this has been happening all over the UK and for many years and we are lagging seriously behind many other countries in the world now.

In addition, Schedule 1 means that doctors can neither be officially taught about the benefits of cannabis nor discuss consumption with patients other than in order to warn them of the dangers or else risk losing their license to practise. Afterall - since the schedule defines cannabis as having no recognised therapeutic use - why would doctors (or patients) need to know anything about it?

There is a similar impact on government departments and registered charities who both risk their respective authority and licenses, along with their credibillity if they engage on the subject openly which is why it took so long for the first charity to come out publicly in support of cannabis as medicine: A very big "Thank you" to The MS Society for your courage. We hope more will follow...you can bet they will, the moment cannabis is out of schedule 1!

Watch this great little clip produced by The Beckley Foundation on the inconsistency of our current scheduling of cannabis:

The UK is the world's largest producer and exporter of legal cannabis for medical and scientific use. Yet its drug laws are inconsistent and contradictory, criminalising thousands of patients who use it to treat chronic conditions.

Schedule 2 or Schedule 4?

Release have a really good article that details the differences between the schedules - Here

Being that the only current approved cannabis medicine, Sativex, is currently in Schedule 4(i), this would seem the most logical and sensible place to put cannabis too, and if it were up to me, or up to most informed opinion, then this is what should happen, but the proposal from Paul Flynn's Elizabeth Brice Bill has only the smallest of changes which would place cannabis into Schedule 2.



Why not Schedule 4 like Sativex?

In 2012 Schedule 4 was split into 2 parts 4(i) and 4(ii) so that certain medicines, such as Sativex (and benzodiazapines), could be more strictly controlled without making them so difficult for doctors to prescribe due to all the approvals, documentation and licenses required for Schedule 2 substances. Since this point in time, from a legal and possession standpoint, Schedule 2 and Schedule 4(i) are now the same: 

Schedule 4(i) drugs can only be lawfully possessed under prescription. Otherwise, possession is an offence under the 1971 Act.

IE: Sativex, without a prescription, is (treated as) a schedule 2 substance in law. 

But what about all the approvals, documentation and licenses required for doctors to be able to prescribe - surely this will seriously restrict access and discourage doctors from prescribing?

Well until a few months ago, this would have been true, however, since some of the more powerful opioid derivatives such as Fentanyl and Carfentanyl were added to Schedule 2, it was necessary to make some changes to the way this worked too or else many thousands of patients in the UK could lose access to their pain relief. So the process for doctors wanting to prescribe a Schedule 2 substance was significantly simplified and automated and can now be done with a few clicks of a mouse.

The upshot of all of this is that for all intents and purposes, the only difference between Schedule 2 and Schedule 4(i) is that there is an obligation to record and track prescriptions which, given the limited knowledge of using cannabis as a medicine in the UK, would be a huge benefit as we can start to build the patient data we need for patients and doctors alike.

What does this mean for Patients?

Once cannabis has been moved out of Schedule 1, it becomes possible for doctors to legally write prescriptions for cannabis and together with a few minor tweaks to a few import regulations (no law change involved), those prescriptions can be fulfilled at a licensed pharmacy. What forms of cannabis would be made available will depend on future policy making but now that there are so many suppliers/producers of quality, standardised cannabis medicines in all forms from all over the world, such as flower/bud and cannabis oils, extracts and edibles and from international cannabis pharmaceutical companies like, Bedrocan in the Netherlands, Tikum Olam in Israel, Columbia Care in the US, Tilray in Canada to name just a few and with more and more coming on board all the time there is little need to fear too limited a range of available and qualifying products, though it is fair to suspect that in the UK, we may start with just a few and increase the range as time goes by. But, to reiterate, this is speculation at this stage and the question is unlikely to be addressed before or even alongside rescheduling.

 Bedrocan

Bedrocan

 Tilray

Tilray

 Tikun Olam

Tikun Olam

Summary List of the Main Benefits:

1: It recognises cannabis as medicne.

2: Doctors and all medical professionals and students can be taught about its benefits and not just the risks.

3: Medical Professionals can discuss it with patients without fear of losing their license.

4: Doctors will be able to prescribe it.

5: 1000s of patients who can benefit will be able to access it legally.

6: Research will be faster cheaper and easier.

7: The numbers of Human clinical trials will explode.

8: Charities and Gov organisations and institutions can support it without fear of losing their licenses and credibility.

9: All the evidence necessary to make a very strong case for further legislative change around Cannabis will be created, and tracked.

10: Medical defence would be possible again.

How will Personal Possession and/or Grow Your Own be affected?

None of this will have any direct impact on those of us who choose to grow and produce our own cannabis medicine. Whether in Schedule 2 or in Schedule 4(i) - the situation is identical to the end consumer or grower - However - there is cause for some hope here too, thanks to the quite unique limitations on how our police force operates in conjunction with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in the UK.

Imagine a scenario sometime after patients in the UK can legally access and consume a cannabis flower product, by prescription.

There are 3 cannabis consumers in a room.

  1. Person 1 is in possession of Bedrocan (cannabis flower) on prescription and is consuming that.
  2. Person 2 is in possession of some street weed they just bought and is consuming that.
  3. Person 3 has some they grew themselves and is consuming that.

If those 3 people stay quiet when the police are called to the scene - they are not going to know, who is doing something illegal and who is not, based on sight alone and as such, can no longer make a "safe" arrest. Reasonable suspicion is no longer reasonable!

There are legal teams and QCs that UPA are working with, looking into this as I write, but the likely upshot of this could be that once legal forms of flower have been introduced into the UK, personal possession and even personal GYO could become tacitly and logistically decriminalised. Of course, as above, we will not be able to get further clarity or confirmation on this, until after it has happened and probably after the first "test case" happens.

In any and all eventualities and no matter what sort of future any of us want for cannabis in the UK, absolutely nothing can or will change without moving it from Schedule 1 of the Misuse of Drugs Act, and even the smallest of changes to Schedule 2 has hugely positive implications for all cannabis patients in the UK and ultimately for any further reform.

When might this happen?

Come and join us on July 6th for what we hope is the last Patients at Parliament in support of our patron, Paul Flynn's Legalisation of Cannabis (Medicinal Purposes) Bill 2017-19. 

That's when it might happen? - More Details here!

#patientsatparliament #elizabethbricebill #july6

Jon Liebling

Political Director - United Patients Alliance