Let’s talk about drugs

Issue section: 

It is indeed time to “stop and think” about drugs, as Brian Richardson argues (December SR). The figures he reports show that in 2013 over 150,000 people were stopped and searched by police “looking for cannabis”.

Police have powers to stop and search for what they can categorise as “prohibited articles” under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. Recent evidence has shown that the cops stop and search black people more than white people, although they are less likely to find drugs on black people than white people. The drug laws are being used as a weapon by an institutionally racist police force against young people.

Brian has started a much needed debate about the use of illegal drugs. But the use of medicinal cannabis should be part of that debate, as the benefits are far from “very limited”, as Brian suggests.

One estimate indicates that up to a million people are self-medicating with “illegal” cannabis in the UK today. The Tories have insisted there are no medicinal properties to cannabis. Indeed they upped the classification of cannabis to a Class B drug.

However, when it comes to business it is a different story. The Tories have awarded the British-based company GW Pharma an exclusive contract to grow and produce cannabis to be used as medicine. Muscle spasticity associated with the condition multiple sclerosis can be controlled by the use of an oral spray, Sativex. GW Pharma sales to the growing US market have increased the company’s market value to $2.6bn (£2bn).

In addition to multiple sclerosis other medical conditions have been treated successfully with cannabis or cannabis derivatives; epilepsy, chronic pain, nausea, fatigue and insomnia.

In Ireland, where cannabis possession is illegal, mother Vera Twomey led a mass campaign last year that eventually won a special medical cannabis license for her young daughter, Ava Barry, who suffers from severe epilepsy. Ava was able to return from the Netherlands where she was receiving medication to spend Christmas at home in Ireland.

Across North America and much of Europe laws are being changed so that cannabis can be used legally, prescribed by medics, the quality regulated.

In the UK campaigners for the medicinal use of cannabis are calling for the law to change so that cannabis is re-categorised from a Schedule 1 Class B drug to a Schedule 4 controlled substance, enabling doctors to prescribe, to encourage research, and to aid access to those who need it.

A private members bill, the Legalisation of Cannabis (Medicinal Purposes) Bill 2017-19, will be discussed in parliament at the end of February. Both the sick and the young would benefit from reform of the drug laws in the UK.