Medical marijuana is finally coming to the U.K. after a century of prohibition, thanks in part to public support of a young boy who nearly died after police seized his CBD medicine. This Thursday, Home Secretary Sajid Javid announced that British doctors will be allowed to prescribe specific cannabis-derived medicines as soon as this fall. This decision will allow the country's 65 million residents access to fully legal medical cannabis, but government officials have not yet decided exactly what products will be made available.
“Recent cases involving sick children made it clear to me that our position on cannabis-related medicinal products was not satisfactory,” said Javid, The Independent reports. “Following advice from two sets of independent advisors, I have taken the decision to reschedule cannabis-derived medicinal products — meaning they will be available on prescription. This will help patients with an exceptional clinical need.”
The primary case that Javid was referencing was that of Billy Caldwell, a 12-year-old epileptic child who made global headlines after British customs authorities seized his supply of CBD medicine. The boy, who had previously gone for as long as 300 days without a seizure while taking the medication, was soon hospitalized, and public outrage over his plight prompted the Home Office to return the boy's medicine and grant him a special license to temporarily continue his treatment.
Shortly thereafter, a second epileptic boy, Alfie Dingley, received another temporary license to use CBD. After these high-profile cases, Javid directed health officials to conduct a review to determine whether medical marijuana should remain prohibited. Earlier this month, Dame Sally Davies, Britain's chief medical officer, released a positive review of cannabis as a medical treatment, recommending that the government take steps towards legalization.
Like in the U.S., all cannabis products are considered Schedule 1 drugs with no medical value under current U.K. law. Javid said that he will move specific cannabis medicines to Schedule 2, a classification reserved for drugs like cocaine and opioids that have medical value alongside some potential for abuse. The Department of Health and Social Care along with the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency are now tasked with determining exactly which medical cannabis products will be approved.
“This announcement brings hope to many thousands of people,” Sir Mike Penning, co-chairman of a new parliamentary group on Medical Cannabis Under Prescription, said to The Independent. “However, there is still a very important body of work to define exactly which products will be allowed and how they will be regulated. Any move to restrict medical cannabis in the U.K. to a very narrow range of derived products, each requiring full pharmaceutical trials, thereby blocking out the many products available overseas, will lead to great disappointment and be a missed opportunity.”
The government is not expected to finalize its decision on which cannabis products to legalize until this fall, but in the meantime, patients suffering from extreme conditions like epilepsy still have a chance to get their medicine. Doctors are now able to apply to an independent expert panel on behalf of patients who are suffering from serious ailments, and can obtain temporary exceptions allowing these patients to use medical marijuana.
"For the first time in months I'm almost lost for words, other than 'thank you Sajid Javid'," said Billy Caldwell's mother Charlotte, who has been tirelessly advocating for medical marijuana, to BBC News. “Never has Billy received a better birthday present, and never from somebody so unexpected,” she said, noting that Javid made the announcement on her son's 13th birthday. "Crucially, my little boy Billy can now live a normal life with his mummy because of the simple ability to now administer a couple of drops a day of a long-maligned but entirely effective natural medication."