Plants grown in secret greenhouses somewhere in southern England, from seeds developed in Holland, will be analysed by Dr Geoffrey Guy and his team during the run-up to Christmas.
Then in the spring, the doctor's company, GW Pharmaceuticals, plans to begin testing the produce on a number of specially recruited patients. The research will confirm Britain's place as a world leader in the race to understand and exploit the therapeutic properties of the illicit drug.
Dr Guy, who was in Washington last week to speak at a conference on scientific research into cannabis, told the IoS: "Six months ago there were still a lot of people who thought that my company was a little oddball. Now it is acknowledged that cannabis and its extracts are going to be extremely important drugs."
GW Pharmaceuticals will be co-ordinating its research with the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, whose scientists are hoping to concentrate on perfecting a pill or other form of oral delivery for the drug. Dr Guy, however, will also look into the possibility of delivering cannabis by inhaler or injection.
Next month's historic harvest will come hard on the heels of the long- awaited House of Lords report into cannabis use. Last Wednesday, the Lords' Science and Technology Committee recommended the legalisation of cannabis for medicinal use. It applauded Dr Guy's work and urged the Government to consider allowing doctors to prescribe the drug to named patients.
Many in Britain who suffer the symptoms of multiple sclerosis already take the drug to relieve pain, risking prosecution. (The Multiple Sclerosis Society estimates that at least 1,000 of the 85,000 sufferers in Britain currently use cannabis.) The Lords' report highlights the urgency of tackling this problem and of taking a compassionate attitude which does not bring the law into disrepute.
Lord Perry of Walton, the former GP and professor of pharmacology who chaired the committee, has stressed that a situation in which the police, the courts, doctors and otherwise law-abiding citizens are all increasingly bending the rules is ultimately untenable.
"If doctors were able to prescribe to named patients, then those patients could simply show their prescription to the police whenever necessary," Lord Perry said. "At the moment the law condemns a lot of people to a lot of suffering."
n The Independent on Sunday has won the National Newspaper award from the Institute for the Study of Drug Dependence for its high standard of reporting on drugs issues throughout the year. The chairman of the judges, Lord Deedes, who presented the award at a lunch last week, singled out the series of pieces by Philip Knightley for special praise.Reuse content