The United Kingdom has softened its stance on medical marijuana, and by this autumn, cannabis-derived medication will be available by prescription.
The surprise announcement by the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, comes after two severely epileptic children were denied cannabis oil to treat their seizures. Public outcry prompted Javid to announce a formal review of cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug last month.
“Recent cases involving sick children made it clear to me that our position on cannabis-related medicinal products was not satisfactory. That is why we launched a review and set up an expert panel to advise on licence applications in exceptional circumstances.
Following advice from two sets of independent advisers, 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 but is in no way a first step to the legalisation of cannabis for recreational use,” Javid said in a news release.
The review, led by the UK’s chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, concluded that cannabis has therapeutic value. The Department of Health and Social Care and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) will define what qualifies as a “cannabis-derived medicinal product.” Approved cannabis products will be covered by the UK’s National Health Service (NHS).
Until last week’s announcement, the UK had no legal medical marijuana program, despite being the world’s largest exporter and producer of cannabis-based medicines. Only approved cannabis-derived medication will be reclassified as Schedule 2 drugs.
Professor Mike Barnes, a physician who petitioned the government to allow cannabis oil use on behalf of his patient, Alfie Dingley, told The Guardian that he hopes the rules around medical marijuana won’t be “too restrictive.”
“I hope medical cannabis will be available very soon to help the many tens of thousands of people who benefit from the medicine but are currently deemed criminals,” he said. “I hope the government will not make the regulations too restrictive but sensibly open up the way to make good quality, safe cannabis available on prescription,” he said.
Legalizing cannabis-derived medicines poises the UK to become one of the biggest marijuana markets in Europe. Prohibition Partners estimates that by 2028 the medical marijuana market in the UK will be worth 8.8 billion euros ($10.2 billion).