UK officials announced a major drug policy shift today that will affect thousands of patients and businesses who stand to benefit from medical cannabis. Like the US government, the UK has long-considered cannabis a “Schedule 1” controlled substance.
In other words, a drug with no medical or therapeutic value and which is illegal to possess or use. But today, the UK home secretary Sajid Javid announced that certain forms of medical cannabis would be classed as Schedule 2 drugs going forward.
The loosening up of the law means physicians in the UK can now legally prescribe some cannabis products.
UK Loosens Up Its Drug Laws To Help Sick Kids
Unlike its European counterparts, the UK has for a long time refused to officially recognize the medical and therapeutic value of cannabis. Any kind of use or possession of cannabis was illegal there, with few exceptions.
For one, with a Home Office license, certain parties could use cannabis for research. And some patients have been able to receive prescriptions for the synthetic THC drug nabilone. Other than that, the only cannabis-based medicine the UK allows is Sativex.
But that changed on Thursday. After a favorable review of the potential therapeutic benefits of cannabis by UK drug advisers and England’s chief medical officer, the home secretary announced the re-scheduling of some forms of medical cannabis.
Now listed as Schedule 2 substances, the change means doctors can prescribe cannabis medicines, like cannabis oil, to patients suffering from drug-resistant diseases.
Importantly, however, the change does not reclassify most forms of cannabis. Instead, it only applies to “cannabis-related medicinal products,” like cannabis oil. Doctors still can’t prescribe botanical cannabis.
During his announcement, home secretary Javid directly referenced recent cases of young children suffering from intractable epilepsy. According to Javid, the shift will open up access to medicinal cannabis oil for patients with severe clinical needs.
The home secretary denied the policy change was a sign the UK was moving toward the broader legalization of cannabis.
New Medical Marijuana Rules Should Boost Britain’s Cannabis Industry
Back in May, the Independent reported on the negative economic consequences of the UK’s prohibitive stance on marijuana. According to the article, experts were warning that the UK was missing out on Europe’s “green rush”. Passing up the chance to generate millions in tax revenue from the multi-billion dollar industry, the UK was blowing a major opportunity, industry leaders said during a Cannabis Europa conference in London that month.
Unlike Germany, Denmark, Ireland, Greece and Poland, for example, the U.K. had yet to legalize the drug for any kind of medical use other than research. But to say that Britain was missing out entirely on the “green rush” isn’t completely accurate.
The U.K. may not be generating any tax revenue from cannabis. But cannabis companies there have made it one of the top countries exporting cannabis around the world. And for quite a while, pro-legalization advocates have pointed to the glaring contradiction. A country that criminalizes cannabis use across the board, leading the world in medical marijuana exports.
Once doctors can prescribe popular and common forms of medicinal cannabis, the UK’s cannabis industry could see a rush of activity and investment. Now, domestic marijuana producers have a potentially massive new medical market: Britain’s own.