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On Saturday, the British government agreed to return an epileptic child's medical cannabis after the story of his plight made headlines across news and social media. Last week, customs officials seized a six-month supply of CBD oil from Charlotte Caldwell, who had just imported the substance from Canada to treat her 12-year-old son Billy's epilepsy. Left without effective medication, the boy was soon hospitalized by debilitating seizures, and Britain's interior minister agreed to grant the family a license to use the medicine, but only as a short-term emergency treatment.
British Home Secretary Sajid Javid said that he used “an exceptional power as home secretary” to lift the ban on cannabis in this one specific instance only. Javid told BBC News that his office's “immediate priority is making sure Billy receives the most effective treatment possible in a safe way. My decision is based on the advice of senior clinicians who have made clear this is a medical emergency. The policing minister met with the family on Monday and since then has been working to reach an urgent solution."
Billy Caldwell was suffering from as many as 100 seizures a day until he travelled to the U.S. to receive CBD treatments in 2016. Later that year, Billy became the first U.K. resident to ever receive a prescription for CBD oil under the National Health Service. Throughout last year, the Caldwell family was able to obtain this medicine legally, and Billy went as long as 300 days without a seizure.
This year, however, the Home Office demanded that the boy's physician stop writing him prescriptions for CBD oil, and soon he ran out of medicine. The family flew to Canada to acquire a six-month supply of CBD as part of a clinical trial, but the medication was seized by customs officials at Heathrow Airport last Monday. While Charlotte met with Home Office officials to argue for the return of the medicine, Billy's seizures worsened dramatically, and by Friday he was rushed to the hospital.
On Saturday afternoon, authorities delivered the seized medicine to Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, where Caldwell is being treated. The Home Office granted a special license which allows doctors to administer the medicine for 20 days, but the family is not allowed to take the oil home with them. The office noted that use of the medicine was being allowed under an “exceptional license” for a “short term emergency,” and that the office would need to review whether or not to the child will be allowed to continue using the drug.
Although the decision is only a stop-gap measure, solely applying to Billy specifically, Barbara Zieniewicz, co-founder of advocacy group Families 4 Access, called the Home Office's decision “triumphant.” Zieniewicz told the BBC that she “strongly believe[s] that this is the first push — from here, it's a ripple effect. This means, to me, there is hope, not just for Billy, but for all the families that need it."
“No other family should have to go through this sort of ordeal, traveling halfway around the world to get medication which should be freely available to our desperately ill children,” Charlotte Caldwell said to reporters, according to Reuters. “This is a wake-up call for our country. In the 21st century we need to have a more humane policy, not panic measures. I hope the government reflects upon what happened and what they’ve put our family through these last few days.”