Dozens of British families are about to lose legal medical cannabis access when the Brexit transition period ends next week.
On January 1, 2021, the United Kingdom will officially exit the European Union (EU). And on that same day, European pharmacies will no longer be allowed to fill prescriptions written by doctors in the UK. This decision is bound to seriously impact dozens of British families who have been legally importing medical marijuana from the Netherlands.
The UK Home Office legalized medical marijuana in 2018, but only three Brits have actually received prescriptions for medicinal pot under the UK's public health system since then. Beyond these three lucky recipients, dozens of other families have been able to use cannabis oils to treat children suffering from intractable epilepsy — but they have been forced to import their medicine from the Netherlands at a cost of up to £2,000 ($2,664) per month.
And starting next week, these families will not even be allowed to do that. The UK Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) just sent out a letter advising doctors to begin offering patients alternatives to medical cannabis products. “Dispensing finished cannabis oil (Bedrocan products) in the Netherlands against prescriptions from UK prescribers is no longer an option from 1 January 2021,” the agency explained, according to The Independent.
Two years after legalizing medical pot, Britain has barely made any headway toward allowing local businesses to grow cannabis for medical use. And now that Dutch cannabis oils are off the table, there are around 40 severely epileptic children who are about to lose access to their medicine. The DHSC noted that alternative medicines are available for these children, but most of these families have already tried these traditional drugs and found them to be less effective and more medically risky than cannabis.
“Medical cannabis is not one single product,” said a spokesperson for the End Our Pain advocacy campaign to The Independent. “Families have tried different products and found what works for their child....The termination of medical cannabis supply from the Netherlands to the UK is a matter of life and death for these children. It’s imperative that the government act now to help reach a solution and help these families.”
Across the Irish Sea, things are looking much brighter for medical cannabis patients. Ireland will remain a member of the EU, and the Irish government just approved a new deal with the Netherlands wherein Irish patients can access imported Dutch cannabis without having to travel overseas.
Advocates are urging UK officials to strike a similar deal with the Netherlands that would allow families to continue importing their children's medicine.
“We are all now faced with the grave possibility that our children will not be able to access the form of medical cannabis that works in the new year,” said Hannah Deacon, a mother whose advocacy for her epileptic son helped convince the UK to legalize medical pot in the first place, to The Independent.