The story so far:

On October 6th I, along with many other people by all accounts, wrote to the Home office asking for clarification regarding the right to import medical cannabis under the Schengen agreement article 75. (See this blog entry from Setember 29th).

It was reported a few weeks later however that the Home Office had “made a mistake” and had given out the wrong advice; UK citizens were not in fact allowed to import cannabis for medical use (See this blog entry from October 31st)

A reply finally arrived from the Home Office on Thursday:

I am aware that this issue has arisen in the context of the UK’s obligations under article 75 of the Schengen Agreement which took effect in 2005. This provision allows for the free movement of travellers within the Schengen member states with their prescribed narcotic and psychotropic medication, provided they are resident in a country where that drug is legally prescribed; it has been prescribed by their doctors; it is necessary medical treatment for a maximum of 30 days and is for personal use only; and they have the appropriate certification from their relevant health authority. Of course, this is a reciprocal arrangement enabling UK residents to travel with their personal medication. The Dept of Health is the UK’s competent authority.

In respect of herbal cannabis I understand the health authorities in the Netherlands and Belgium allow herbal cannabis products to be purchased by doctors and dispensed to patients for a number of indications. In the limited circumstances described above, a Dutch or Belgium resident will be allowed to travel to the UK with herbal cannabis products prescribed in these countries.

However, a UK resident cannot rely on the Schengen Agreement to bring prescribed herbal cannabis into the UK from the Netherlands or Belgium. This activity would be in breach of UK law, amounting to the unlawful importation and possession of a controlled (sic) drug, and the UK resident would be liable for arrest and prosecution under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. We are committed to maintaining UK drugs laws and the government is seeking assurance from European authorities that checks in this system, including the checks that member states makes before issuing a Schengen certificate to an applicant are as robust as possible.

In the UK cannabis is controlled (sic) as a class B drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and is listed Scehdule 1 to  the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001 as the UK does not recognise that it has medical use. The Government recognises that there are people with chronic pain and debilitating illness who are looking to alleviate their symptoms and who may not find adequate relief from existing medication. For them, the UK does recognise the medical value of a cannabis based medicine “Sativex”, which based on an assessment of its safety and efficiancy by the UK Regulatory Agency, has recently been granted a Marketing Authorisation.

However, we have no intention of altering our position on cannabis in its raw form. Cannabis is a drug that has a number of acute and chronic health effects and prolonged use can induce dependence. Most cannabis is smoked and smoking, in any form, is dangerous. Even the occasional use of the drug can pose significant dangers to people with mental health problems, such a schizophrenia and particular efforts need to be made to encourage abstinence in such individuals.

James Brokenshire

So there you have it, the government says “NO” and is clearly having non of this medical cannabis nonsense. Brokenshire seems to have no problem with the logic that whilst politicians insist there is no medical value to be had  from cannabis use, doctors in other countries are prepared to prescribe it as a ” necessary medical treatment”. I wonder who knows best, a doctor or James Brokenshire?

The final paragraph about the dangers of cannabis is really quite pathetic and even if true is hardly a justification for imprisoning adults who make an informed decision to use cannabis, let alone children or ill people who should be protected by the law rather than treated as criminals. This shows an authoritarian streak in this government totally at odds with its public claims – the true face behind the mask perhaps?

So anyway where does all this leave UK law?

We have an exception to a law here based not on country of origin, but on this somewhat nebulous concept of “place of residence”. It’s unclear how that is defined, if indeed it is defined in any formal way. However, it’s not based on nationality so a UK citizen living in Holland can import cannabis here and apparently be immune from prosecution but a Dutch person living here couldn’t. It will be interesting to see how this stands up in law if or when it eventually gets challenged.

Cannabis in all its forms is still a schedule 1 drug, which means it has no medical use. It’s interesting because Sativex, as James Brokensire states, has been granted a licence and doctors are able to prescribe it. However, it is still a schedule 1 drug and whilst doctors can prescribe it, it is unclear if pharmacies can legally dispense it or indeed if users can legally posses it.

The government had – and maybe still has – plans to introduce Sativex as a way to defuse the medical cannabis issue. They had hoped to be able to licence Sativex as something distinct from cannabis and that thinking is clear in James Brookenshire’s comments.  However, things haven’t gone as planned and Sativex is still scehedule 1 as a result. The idea was to move Sativex into class 2 which would acknowledge its medical value, but this has not happened and although the Home Office is keeping very tight lipped the reason is pretty obvious; Sativex is pharmacologically identical to cannabis because it is cannabis – albeit a blend of two strains and refined down to a substance similar to what is sold on the street as “oil”, which is recognised as a form of cannabis under the law  (see here). The UK drug laws simply cover the drugs and can’t make an exception for a specific brand name. Sadly for the government, if  Sativex is moved to class 2 it will almost certainly mean cannabis will have to be as well. Watch this space to see what happens.

One other fly in the ointment is that under section 8 of the Misuse of Drugs Act it is illegal for anyone to allow the use of cannabis in any establishment or property they own or manage. There is no exception to that so presumably it would not be legal to allow this legally imported cannabis – or come to that Sativex – to actually be used anywhere? As far as UKCIA can tell nothing has been done about this yet either, and there doesn’t seem to be any plans to do anything.

The UK drug law as it applies to cannabis is coming under a lot of pressure and yet this government are desperate to keep their hard line prohibition policy intact whatever the evidence and whatever the harm they cause. It really is quite pathetic.