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UK Cannabis Groups Bring Their Calls For Reform To The Heart Of Government

LAST week saw two leading UK cannabis organisations gather in the Houses of Parliament as both sought to bring their calls for regulatory reform to the heart of government. 

The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for CBD Products held its annual general meeting in The House of Commons on Wednesday 30 November, featuring a discussion with a Police & Crime Commissioner on the challenges facing cannabis reform in both government and police services. 

The following evening, drug reform organisation Volteface held a private parliamentary launch of its report examining the barriers preventing doctors from prescribing medical cannabis more widely throughout the UK. 

While each succeeded in bringing the industry’s priorities to the government’s doorstep, work remains to build meaningful engagement with MPs outside of a few familiar faces.

Law, Order and Cannabis UK

The conservative PCC led an enlightening discussion surrounding the government’s current attitude towards cannabis, and how decisions were made around how cannabis is policed throughout the UK. 

They began by referencing a discussion they had had earlier that day in a meeting with the Home Secretary where the ‘figure came up again’ that a third to a half of all crime is drugs related. 

“And my reaction to that is of course it is, it’s because we have a ridiculous regulation system in the UK when it comes to drugs”, they told the room, before clarifying that ‘are very, very different views’ among their colleagues on this issue. 

Some of these colleagues, including the Home Secretary Suella Braverman, believe cannabis should be upgraded to a Class A substance. 

However, they continued that they believed we were not going to reduce serious crimes by making it harder for people to access ‘safe and sensible’ drugs when they want to. 

A more pressing hurdle, they explained, was the ongoing battle to do more with less as police services throughout the UK continue to see their budgets slashed. 

The PCC said that there simply wasn’t enough officers to police drugs in the way that many of their colleagues would like. 

This meant that the limited allocation of resources had to be considerd in terms of threat, harm and risk, and when it came to cannabis they said that they ‘just didn’t see the same level of harm as I do with other things’. 

Despite stating that resources would be better spent tackling the people at the top of the chain, not small time suppliers, they said there remained a problem with perception, and that many of their colleagues felt a need to be seen to be tough on drugs. 

Asked whether they were in the minority among PCCs regarding their views on cannabis, they explained that those who held a much tougher stance on the issue were simply ‘louder’ and therefore got more press attention. 

However they added that their colleagues were ‘pragmatic’ and ‘utterly persuadable by robust data and evidence’, including the group’s recently published report – ‘APPG Plan for a Legal and Regulated UK Hemp and Cannabis Sector’. 

When asked whether other PCCs had all recieved a copy of the report, they replied that they had not. 

The APPG’s Chair, Conservative MP for Reigate Crispin Blunt followed this by asking why more of the members’ local MPs were not attending the meeting, and encouraged members to do more to educate their MPs on the economic case for cannabis reform, stating that if their businesses were on the line it was the MPs duty to step in. 

Known Unknowns of Medical Cannabis

The following evening, another group of the UK’s cannabis industry stakeholders met in parliament for the launch of Volteface’s new report into the ‘barriers and hesitations faced by clinicians’ preventing them from feeling comfortable prescribing medical cannabis. 

The session was opened by Labour MP for Manchester Jeff Smith, who introduced the ‘Medical Cannabis Access Bill’ earlier this year.

He explained that in his bill, he argued for the need for a commission to create a solid evidence base from which clinicians could work from, and the creation of a register of clinicians who have been trained in prescribing on the NHS. 

“I’m very pleased that the report.. really picks up those things. One, trusted clinicians and educating clinicians, and two, to create an evidence base,” he said. 

Volteface’s report saught to explore the views of over 40 clinicians working in a range of specialisms throughout the UK in regards to prescribing medical cannabis. 

According to the report, around 40,000 clinicians are eligible to prescribe medical cannabis in the UK, but roughly 100 are thought to do so actively. 

One of the biggest barriers to prescribing continues to be the lack of high quality evidence, with some arguing that calls for cannabis to be treated differently to other new medications damaged its credibility, leaving many clincians to regard the medical cannabis industry with ‘scepticism’. 

This issue was exacerbated by the prevalence of cannabis-only clinics, with many doctors stating they are reluctant to prescribe through these clinics and would feel more comfortable prescribing from their own practices. 

According to the report, this presented a ‘major barrier’ to opening up prescriptions, as a clinic dedicated to a single product ‘inherently creates prescribing bias’, and further undermines trust from the medical community. 

The report concluded by making a number of recommendations, but notably avoiding calls ‘for further policy change’. 

Instead, it said that the ‘solution to expanding access within the scope of the current framework is grounded in clinical engagement’. 

Furthermore, it suggested that a continued drive to expand the private medical cannabis sector in the UK, would ‘ultimately lead to an expansion of more widely and regularly prescribed medical cannabis in the private sector, with the potential for concrete health benefits to be observed by clinicians.’ 

“This feedback loop can then influence researchers, mono specialist societies and other organisations to conduct further exploration into the opportunities and indications for cannabis prescribing.”

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