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Home Office reply to the open letter from UKCIA of January 7th 2007

Original letter from UKCIA

2nd February 2007

Ref T851/7

The Home Office.

Dear Mr Williams

Thank you for your letter of 7th January to the home Secretary about the THC4MS court case and the law relating to the medical use of cannabis. Your letter has been passed to the Crime and Drug Legislation and Enforcement Unit and I have been asked to reply.

You will know that Mark and Lezley Gibson and Marcus Davise were each given a nine-month suspended prison sentence on 26th January with regard to their convictions for conspiracy to supply cannabis in the form of cannabis-laced chocolate bars to multiple sclerosis sufferers. However, it is not appropriate for me to comment upon matters relating to a particular case, especially where there may be an appeal against conviction.

On a general level, the unauthorised supply and possession of cannabis for whatever purpose (recreational or therapeutic) is a criminal offence and any persons engaging in such activity are liable to prosecution whatever their motive for doing so. It is reasonable to believe that they will have some knowledge of the possible consequences of this unlawful activity.

Any arrest, investigation and subsequent prosecution of people who supply or possess cannabis for therapeutic purposes is a matter for the police and Crown Prosecution Service, not the Government, to decide in accordance with the law and all circumstances of the case.

The Government has no plans to review the legal situation regarding the medicinal use of cannabis and, in particular, no intention of legalising the use of cannabis in its raw form for medicinal purposes. However, it recognises that there are people with severe pain and debilitating illnesses, such as multiple sclerosis, who cannot satisfactorily alleviate their symptoms through the use of existing medication.

That is why the Government has said that it would seek Parliament's agreement to make any necessary changes tot he law to enable the prescription of cannabis based medicine, for the purpose of relieving pain, but not before the granting of product approval from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

It would not be appropriate for the government to circumvent or undermine the well-established process attached to the evaluation of the safety, quality and effectiveness of all prospectively prescribable products by the MHRA. It is a process which is designed to protect public health. Doctors must be confident about what they prescribe. In order to protect public health, the Government faces difficulty in making any changes to the law unless and until it is satisfied that the benefits have been formally established by the statutorily recognised means. This position is supported by the British Medical Association.

The company GW Pharmaceuticals have been seeking a licence for their cannabis based medicine, Sativex, but in June 2005 they were refused on the grounds of insufficient efficacy. Pending further clinical trial, there is therefore no early prospect of a prescribable cannabis based medicine, licenced in t he UK, becoming available to multiple sclerosis sufferers.

Never the less, Sativex was granted a marketing authorisation in Canada where it has been licenced for the relief of neuropathic pain in multiple sclerosis under the terms of a conditional licence. Home Office ministers made clear in November 2005 that imports of Sativex from Canada will be allowed under licence issued by t he Home Office Drugs Branch Licensing Section (here at 2 Marsham Street). It can therefore be prescribed to individual patients under the clinicians personal responsibility.

The licencing system is fully operative. A blanket licence was issued to cover, upon application with t he relevant patient details, any doctor wishing to prescribe Sativex, the pharmacist to dispense the drug and the patient to possess it, without the requirement to be individually licenced.

Whether it is a patient or a doctor who first contacts our Licensing Section about the prescribing of Sativex, the Home Office asks for the doctor to supply patient details (name and address) and a brief indication of the clinical requirement for the drug (for example, pain associated with multiple sclerosis etc). This information is then passed to GW pharmaceuticals who will contact the doctor to discuss treatment, suggest prescribing regimes, etc. In some instances, the doctor may contact GW Pharmaceuticals direct in the first instance. In either scenario, all those in the chain (ie doctor, pharmacist and patient) will be covered under the licence.

Regarding the reports of cannabis being contaminated with Glass particles, you will probably know that the Chief Medical Officer issued an emergency alert on 17th January through he public health warning system and a copy of the text is enclosed. This alert has also been disseminated through he FRANK website, the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse, the substance misuse practitioner networks and the Association of Cheif Police Officers.


Richard Mullins

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