Mother who forced Javid into climbdown over epileptic son's medical cannabis says 'this is just the start'

‘We need to get serious now about getting the benefits of these medicines, and move to change the frankly absurd position we are in’

Mattha Busby
Sunday 17 June 2018 13:30
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Billy Caldwell's mum welcomes UK allowing cannabis oil epileptic son

The mother of a severely epileptic boy who forced the home secretary into a highly public climbdown on the confiscation of his cannabis medication has warned ministers they now face a major backlash from other parents in the same situation.

Sajid Javid intervened personally on Saturday to sanction the return of Billy Caldwell’s anti-epileptic medicine after it was taken off his mother, Charlotte, at Heathrow airport on Monday – prompting the return of seizures that left the 12-year-old fighting for his life in hospital.

Ms Caldwell had been on her way back from Canada, where she had been forced to travel to seek out the drug after the Home Office halted the prescription for it Billy had been receiving from his GP, which she credited with keeping him seizure-free for nearly 10 months beforehand.

Public outcry at the case intensified when Billy became gravely ill and was admitted to hospital over the weekend, at which point Mr Javid stepped in to grant a temporary licence allowing him access to the medication.

Ms Caldwell is now calling for “complete reform” to the UK’s “massively outdated laws” – and warning the government the backlash is only just beginning.

“I want to meet the home secretary and health secretary, urgently, this week, to get assurance that not only will Billy’s meds never again be removed, but to call for an urgent review of the overall policy on medical cannabis as it affects everyone who could benefit,” she told The Independent.

“The home secretary has seen the momentum that has built up in support of Billy. There’s hundreds of other kids and mummies and daddies who are equally affected.

“Neither [Sajid Javid] nor the health secretary should be in any doubt as to how this will escalate now that all those families and their supporters will react.

“I want nobody in government, and nobody who has been impacted by massively outdated laws, to be under any impression that this is job done.

“This is just the start. The energy we’ve brought to Billy’s campaign is as nothing compared to what we are prepared to unleash to drive complete reform.”

MPs from across the political spectrum are now calling on the government to legalise medicinal cannabis and update laws based on “outdated claims” that the plant has no medicinal value.

“We need to get serious now about getting the benefits of these medicines, and move to change the frankly absurd position we are in,” Crispin Blunt, a Conservative MP and former prisons minister, told the BBC.

Dr Dan Poulter, a former Conservative health minister, said that the current situation was “ridiculous” and that a new all-party parliamentary group that he is part of is pushing for an urgent change in the law.

“I genuinely don’t understand why we see ... medicinal cannabis through the prism of the 1971 Misuse of Drugs legislation,” he said. “When actually this is a medical issue, it’s not a prohibition of drugs issue, and that’s what’s got to change.”

“We need to change the law,” George Freeman, a Tory MP and chair of the Conservative Policy Forum, tweeted. “Treating cannabis medicine oils for epilepsy like recreational street cannabis is criminalising patients and fuelling a dangerous black market.”

The Home Office initially held the view that since cannabis is a controlled substance it could not sanction its use medicinally. However, countless pharmaceutical drugs contain substances such as opium and benzodiazepines which are otherwise illegal.

Around a third of the 63,400 children with epilepsy across the UK do not positively respond to the medication prescribed by the NHS and a growing number of families are demanding the right for their children to access cannabis medicine.

There is an increasing body of evidence proving that cannabis medicine can be an effective treatment, particularly since the side-effects of traditional anti-epileptic medicines can be debilitating.

Ironically, the UK is the largest producer of medicinal cannabis and it exports anti-epileptic medication to foreign markets.

“It will astonish most people to learn that Britain is one of the largest producers and exporters of medicinal cannabis – yet we have extreme laws which prevent people here from feeling the benefits of these drugs,” said Caroline Lucas, the co-chair of the parliamentary group for drug policy reform.

Much of the 95 tonnes of cannabis grown in greenhouses across the country is done by British Sugar, whose managing director is married to the drugs minister, Victoria Atkins.

It is used as the key ingredient in pharmaceutical drugs manufactured by GW Pharmaceuticals, a biotech company whose main investor, Capital Group, count Theresa May’s husband as their investment relationship manager.

Relatives of government ministers have also confessed to using cannabis oil to treat chronic pain.

It emerged on Sunday that the sister-in-law of the policing minister, Nick Hurd, started using cannabis medicine after a nerve cyst operation.

“I know it is technically illegal but I could not believe anyone would arrest me for taking pain relief medicine when there are so many more important things for the authorities to focus on,” Sara Hurd told the Mail on Sunday.

“I have no doubt cannabis should be properly legalised for medicinal purposes. I simply don’t understand how we have got to this place whereby we can use opioids and other illegal drugs in medicine but not cannabis.”

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