CANNABIS CAMPAIGN: Legalise this safe drug, says BMA

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The publication on Tuesday of the BMA's report The Therapeutic Uses of Cannabis will kill off the last arguments against the decriminalisation of the drug for medical use, write Benjamin Mee and Graham Ball.

The 80-page review concludes that "present evidence indicates that they are remarkably safe drugs, with a side-effects profile superior to many drugs used for the same indications". The report, which strikes a remarkably upbeat tone, is the work of the Board of Science and Education, a committee which includes the BMA's president, Sir Donald Acheson among its members. By tradition a recommendation from this august source usually springboards a drug into acceptance. "If these people find something acceptable as a medicine, it is acceptable," said one observer.

The BMA will urge the Government to "consider changing the Misuse of Drugs Act to allow the prescription of cannabinoids [active chemical compounds in cannabis] to patients with certain conditions causing distress that are not adequately controlled by existing treatments".

The report announces the establishment of a cannabis research group to be chaired by Dr Roger Pertwee of the University of Aberdeen, who has been exploring the chemical properties of cannabis for more than 20 years. The BMA is calling for this and other interested groups to work with the Department of Health to conduct proper clinical trials.

It recommends that "while research is under way, the police, the courts and other prosecuting authorities should be made aware of the medicinal reasons for the unlawful use of cannabis by those suffering from certain medical conditions for whom other drugs have proved ineffective".

While some anti-drugs use campaigners fear this could be the start of creeping decriminalisation, others believe it could place further strain on magistrates and the police. "This proposal could create legal nightmares," said Matthew Atha of the Independent Drug Monitoring Unit. "The problems will come when people who use cannabis for justifiable medical reasons, but who do not want to mix with drug dealers to get their supply, are penalised for supplying their own cannabis," said Mr Atha.

Greg Poulter, deputy director of Release, fears this proposal could send a confusing message to the young. "If we are to say that it is not a criminal offence to use cannabis if you are unwell some young people may think there no real penalties," he said.

The BMA say that cannabis in its raw form is not suitable for medicinal use, and recommends instead the development of new medicines which duplicate the beneficial therapeutic effects of the cannabinoid compounds in cannabis.