UK: Cannabis decision ‘will hurt disabled people’
Source: Disability Now Date: July 2008
Author; Sunil Peck
Cannabis decision ‘will hurt disabled people’
Disabled people will be the victims if MPs vote to reclassify cannabis, campaigners have claimed.
In May, the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith announced her intention to upgrade the classification of the drug from class C to class B in the interests of public health.
Reclassification would mean the maximum prison sentence for possessing cannabis would increase from two to five years.
Helen Yates, chief executive of the Multiple Sclerosis Resource Centre, said cannabis was a last resort for many people who have exhausted every other option for managing their condition. She said: "If they find that cannabis works for them, I think that they will risk a prison sentence and the increased penalties that go with a class B drug."
Alun Buffry, from the Legalise Cannabis Alliance, said that although reclassification would not increase the maximum sentence of 14 years for supplying the drug, actual sentences could still increase because the courts would view it as a more serious crime. He warned that disabled users would suffer because, to compensate for higher sentences, dealers would increase prices and supply lower quality cannabis.
Clare Hodges, organiser of the Alliance for Cannabis Therapeutics, said reclassification would be "bad news" for disabled people who are forced to rely on minor criminals to obtain cannabis for pain relief.
A Home Office spokesman expressed sympathy for disabled people who cannot alleviate their symptoms with existing medication. He said the government had no intention of legalising cannabis in its raw form for medicinal purposes, but when the cannabis-based medicine Sativex is approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), the government would change the law to make it legal for doctors to prescribe it.
An MHRA spokeswoman said reclassification would have no influence on whether or not Sativex was granted a UK license. She said: "The MHRA is primarily concerned with the quality, safety and efficacy of all medicinal products and will only grant a marketing authorisation for a product once it is satisfied that data, including those from clinical trials, submitted by the applicant demonstrate that the quality of the medicine is acceptable and that the efficacy (benefit) and safety indicate that the product has an acceptable risk."
GW Pharmaceuticals (GWP), the manufacturer of Sativex, withdrew its application to the MHRA for a license last year to study the drug’s effectiveness in treating spasticity in people with multiple sclerosis. Justin Gover, GWP’s managing director, expects to resubmit an application in the first half of 2009. GWP originally applied for a license in 2003. Gover said it was "deeply frustrating” that the process was proving to be so lengthy, but the delay was part of the business of developing a new prescription medicine and not because of its association with cannabis. He added: "We are absolutely committed to ensuring that we do provide the MHRA with the data that they need and that we do ultimately obtain a license for Sativex."