A new bill could give hope to millions of people suffering in the UK, argues the writer James Coke
For much of my adult life I’ve had to rise each morning and combat multiple sclerosis. Sometimes it’s a thankless task- my legs scissored together, locked in cramp as I fight to break free of its stranglehold.
I’m convinced cannabis has allowed me to live more of a normal life than would have been possible with the constant ache. I’ve always smoked it. But in recent years I’ve been building cannabis oil and turning it into tinctures. A few drops of my special brew numbs any niggling aches, clear my mind and help me get a good night’s sleep, spasm-free.
But smoking a joint or stimulating cannabis tinctures could land me in jail for five years under our current drug laws. For someone living with MS or any other affliction that can be soothed by cannabis- including “Parkinsons disease”, post-traumatic stress ailment or cancer- the stigma of a criminal record is not ethical or fair.
Since the” war on medications” was launched in the early 1970 s millions of people with medical problems have been getting a bum deal. Cannabis, for centuries lauded for its therapeutic benefits, was unjustly demonised, flung in with the likes of heroin and cocaine, to be expunged from the reach of society. However, the war was lost long ago. It is estimated that the illegal global drug market is worth about $400 bn a year. The figure represents the total failure of the policy and excludes the billions wasted fighting it.
Several UK police forces, including Durham, effectively decriminalised the personal employ of cannabis to prioritise resources. And public opinion supports a change in the law, especially when it comes to medical cannabis. That is only likely to increase after the fight by the mother of a six-year-old boy with a rare form of epilepsy who has been refused a licence to be treated with cannabis petroleum.
Changes in the law in parts of the US, Canada and Germany mean that the use of medical cannabis is now legal there. The shifting in policy has given people the opportunity to choose their medical route, allowing many to escape addiction to prescription opioids.
The UK government appears reluctant to follow suit. Yet since 1998 it has licensed GW Pharmaceuticals to make Sativex. The medicine, for people with MS, are from cannabis plants, mostly grown by British Sugar. It is a step, but ultimately it has ringfenced the developing and sale of medical cannabis at a massively inflated cost. Only a handful of those with MS receive it: the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence( Nice ), which authorises the use of drugs by the NHS deems it too expensive( a year’s supply can cost upwards of PS5, 000 ). You either have to live in parts of Wales or be able to afford a private prescription to benefit.
The formula in each 10 ml Sativex bottle includes the chief components in cannabis- THC and CBD( 2.5 mg of each ). It costs PS125 a bottle and lasts on average 10 days. In comparing an ounce of medical cannabis will cost me PS250 and hold upwards of 900 mg of each component. Once extracted into cannabis oil and dosed accordingly, it can produce about 350 bottles of a product that does the same task, at a fraction of the cost.
Obviously by making the spraying I am transgressing the law- but it helps indicate the hypocrisy of the government’s posture and its inertia in facilitating real reform. The production process is certainly not rocket science, and cannabis is a common herb in many countries, and should not cost an arm and a leg. People are just being held to ransom by an outdated law.
Much remainders on the second reading of Paul Flynn’s private member’s bill on Friday advocating cannabis be made legal for medical utilize. If it eventually passed into law, it would be a landmark day for people living with a chronic illness or in constant pain.
Big pharma and major corporations involved in the industry such as British Sugar may balk at a regulated free market in medical cannabis, seeking to protect their interests. The narcotics pastor, Victoria Atkins, has shown antipathy for any kind of reform to the laws on medical cannabis.( Incidentally her husband Paul Kenward, is the managing director at British Sugar .)
Flynn has got a lot of backers in his corner, though. Legalising medical cannabis might be personal to me, but it should be personal to us all. There are more than 11 million people living with a disability in the UK, and an ageing population means few will be immune from the pain that lies ahead. The benefits seen from the US and across the world offer us a template to build upon.
* James Coke is a novelist. He blogs at thedisabledchef.com
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