Just about a month ago this blog reported that it was now apparently possible for ill people to travel to some countries in Europe to get a prescription for herbal cannabis and to bring it back to the UK. This is based on a right enshrined in the Schengen agreement which allows people to take up to three months worth of prescribed medication into any Schengen country. That this right exists is not in dispute and a month or so back according to the Home Office it extended to UK domiciled people travelling abroad.

As a result of this and other blogs (most notably that of Peter Reynolds) covering the story and discussion on a number of internet forums a large number of people have written to the Home Office and contacted the media to ask if this is true. Thus far UKCIA has heard of no replies to any of the queries made to the Home Office over the  past month, nor has there been any coverage in any of the media as far as we can tell. This is about to change in a small way on Monday when BBC 1’s “Inside out” programme looks into it. Sadly this programme is a local production for the London area so those of us fortunate enough not to live in the smoke won’t see it on TV, although it should be available on the BBC i-player afterwards. Perhaps because of this tiny bit of interest from one section of the media, the Home Office seems to have made a statement intended to clarify the situation.

The fact that people from (at least) Belgium and Holland can bring herbal cannabis into this country and use it quite legally is not in dispute (see the video of the EU parliament at the end of this blog) and this alone raises some interesting problems for the government and more about that shortly, but first, what of the situation for UK residents?

On Friday the Guardian ran a disappointingly uncritical report headed ” Home Office gave wrong guidance on import of medicinal cannabis”. Oddly the Guardian seems to be the only part of the mainstream media to have covered this story, although it was also mentioned by the online site “Top news“. The Guardian story carried the sub-heading:

Email incorrectly said EU law allowed certain people to bring small quantities of cannabis into UK for personal use

Which is actually an incorrect summary of the situation as reported by that paper. In fact the agreement allows up to three months supply of prescribed medication to be imported and used, which at 2grms a day (which seems to be the dose prescribed) works out at 60 grms – that’s a bit more than is normally accepted as a “small amount” by those in power.  According to the Guardian

Clause 75 of the agreement regulates travel within the EU with prescribed controlled drugs. However it only permits people who are officially resident in countries where the drug being carried is legal to move between countries while in possession of it. Conditions also apply meaning individuals must have the appropriate permits and a doctor’s prescription from the relevant country. This means British residents cannot travel to the UK in possession of medicinal cannabis even if they managed to acquire a prescription in a country where it is legal.

If this is indeed the case then it is only residents of these countries who can legally import and use cannabis here. Now of course, this is the Home Office opinion as reported by the Guardian, as such is very much open to challenge and there are good reasons for doing so. According to the Home Office as reported:

It remains illegal for UK residents to possess cannabis in any form.

The statement is interesting because the cannabis drug SATIVEX is now available on the NHS, albeit possibly illegally as cannabis is still classed as a schedule 1 drug under the law (which means it has no medical value), the Home Office have yet to amend the misuse of Drugs Act although they have given special dispensation to doctors to allow them to prescribe it. The law would still seem to prohibit the possession, or perhaps even supply through pharmacies of SATIVEX as things stand. Rumour has it they want to legalise the use of SATIVEX only, but can’t find a way to do so and the reason for that is simple: SATIVEX is cannabis – actually a blend of two strains – with all the non-active vegetable matter removed and what’s left dissolved into alcohol. SATIVEX is a thinned down version of the substance sold on the street as “oil”. No matter what the Home Office may try to argue, SATIVEX is pharmacologically identical to cannabis because it is cannabis.

However, UK law does not normally make it illegal for UK citizens to do something whilst allowing people from abroad to do the same thing. So perhaps the most interesting point is that it is no longer always illegal for residents of some other countries to possess and use herbal cannabis in the UK.  How is it possible that people can be subject to the criminal law in such radically different ways simply because of where they live in the EU? We are now in the situation where some people can happily use cannabis – perhaps in very obvious ways such as with a  vaporiser – and be quite unaffected by a law that would imprison a UK resident for up to 5 years? How do the Home Office intend to police this and is such arguably racist discrimination actually legal?

If they do manage to sort out the mess of SATIVEX still officially having no medical use, how can they differentiate between that and “raw” cannabis in any case?

Worse, under UK law people who do have the right to use their medical cannabis cannot legally do so anywhere, as Section 8 of the Misuse of Drugs Act makes it an offence to allow cannabis to be used on any property you own or manage, there is no exception for medical use. As things stand this seems to apply to SATIVEX as well as legally imported herbal cannabis, is this clearly unfair clause going to be altered? If so how and when?

Lastly the government seems to have had an “Animal Farm” moment. George Orwell’s play about the animals taking over the farm told of how the pigs who became the new administration subtly changed the slogans to fit their agenda in a way they hoped no-one would notice, the government has just done this with its position on cannabis. Up to now  the government was quite clear in it’s opinion that “Cannabis is dangerous and has no medicinal benefits”. This has, if the Guardian is to be believed, changed to

Cannabis is dangerous and has no medicinal benefits in herbal form.

Sadly the Guardian didn’t notice this Orwellian moment, but isn’t it reasonable to regard the opinion of professional doctors on this rather more highly than mere politicians?

The Guardian wrote

Campaigners for the legalisation of medicinal cannabis are often people with chronic illnesses who claim it is especially effective as a pain reliever. They point to countries like Holland where the drug can be prescribed for medical reasons as evidence that British drugs laws are draconian. Some argue that denial of the drug to people in pain is tantamount to discrimination.

Fact is many ill people are simply too scared of the law to protest, instead many take their chance on the illegal unregulated but widespread commercial trade or else suffer in silence.  Also some of us don’t argue that denial of cannabis to people in pain is tantamount to discrimination, we argue it’s tantamount to torture. Why should a person racked by pain be prevented by law from using anything to relieve his or her pain on the whim of here today, gone tomorrow politicians?

Add this mess to some of the other problems beginning to afflict them over child and housing benefits and it is beginning to look as if the present ConDem government is not only repressive in nature but also somewhat amateurish and inept. That should be of great concern to us all.


Right to Freedom-of-Movement in the EU, regardless of medical condition, physical- or cognitive-handicap: EuroParl Dec.1 2009 from Noel McCullagh on Vimeo.