Importing medical cannabis to the UK – Home Office replies

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.

22 thoughts on “Importing medical cannabis to the UK – Home Office replies

  1. I wished this actually surprised me… You know, I could have understood their interpretation of the Schengen Agreement with regards to residency as a pure legal argument.. I could understand that maybe it doesn’t allow a UK citizen to bring back their medicine because that is not how it was written… but the last paragraph really irritated me… Just outright political rhetoric and lies, just replace ‘cannabis’ with tobacco or alcohol and read again…

    I know I commented on another post why reform hasn’t happened as there is no incentive for individual politicians to do it… but in one of the highest drug-consuming countries in Europe why do we have one of the hardest lines from the establishment and some of least liberal laws.. it is still beyond me… why do they hate ‘drugs’ so much?

  2. Secret services from US and UK make lots of money keeping the sale of some drugs illegal, as they keep a monopoly

  3. The last paragraph is the same Homme Office reply I’ve had under the Labour government. Word for word. SO! Who’s actually commenting here? The home office staff or the conservative government?

  4. For them, the UK does recognise the medical value of a cannabis based medicine “Sativex”,

    Hmmm… So they accept a cannabis based medicine as OK, but not cannabis itself. Which leads me to ask the question, “Why not test sativex “AGAINST” cannabis in a proper laboratory setting and see what the results are then?” We should find out from that type of study what works best. Without research they can bullshit us…with research they’re buggered. Or something like that any hows… Nik

  5. @Nik – “With research they’re buggered”.. unfortunately you answered your own question. Is the same reason the DEA won’t grant research licences even when judges have… the facts and research papers are already there, only suppressed and not given media coverage… if the evidence didn’t support the claims, SATIVEX would never have been allowed to be a medicine..

  6. “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”

    except clause Section 8(d) only relates to smoking cannabis, and so would not have any bearing on the use of sativex used sublingually.


  7. Kfx – I stand corrected, but it is all a bit of a mess. I knew that section 8 of the Misuse of Drugs Act was ammended in 2001 to read

    “adminstration or use of any controlled drugs”

    But it seems this amendment was never implimented ( would you believe it!

    However, it does cover the use of legally imported herbal cannabis assuming it is smoked.

    So the unammended Section 8 states:

    A person commits an offence if, being the occupier or concerned in the management of any premises, he knowingly permits or suffers any of the following activities to take place on those premises, that is to say:
    (a) producing or attempting to produce a controlled drug in contravention of section 4(1) of this Act;
    (b) supplying or attempting to supply a controlled drug to another in contravention of section 4(1) of this Act, or offering to supply a controlled drug to another in contravention of section 4(1);
    (c) preparing opium for smoking;
    (d) smoking cannabis, cannabis resin or prepared opium.

    So interestingly it was never an offence to allow people to eat hash cakes. What is the difference between cannabis and cannabis resin I wonder?

  8. Bottom line is?. If your English Dont try this at home. Rock on the Propaganda. Round and Round it goes.

  9. That DrugScope link shows they are really misunderstanding the law. The law doesn’t regulate drugs, it regulates people, it does not as they say, seek to prohibit the use of controlled drugs except for medical purposes either. Alcohol is not outside the Act!

  10. Let us think about what is really happening here – The home office is forming an opinion that a medical substance, which is accepted as such in many countries, can be withheld from those who need it. They believe that it is worth while to see people suffer to re-inforce their prejudice against this substance. There are many medical substances that could cause health and social problems but are still allowed as medicine but this sort of thing should be governed by the Department of health not the Home Office.

  11. I honestly think that the government is going to announce some kind of ‘crackdown’ on cannabis. With the cuts starting to bite they’re going to need cannon fodder to throw to the press and it’s an easy point scorer.

    Wheel out the old lies about increased strength, not the drug you smoked in Univeristy, here’s Debra Bell and Robin Murray and we’re going to increase it to class A because messages must be sent blah blah blah blah

  12. I think Sam is Right. Im pretty sure we are going to see a lot more lies and propaganda when this “New” Policy is announced. Harm reduction and more harm reduction. TheRE may not see the future profits surrounding prisons but they sure as hell see the cash cow thats treatment for unbalanced minds.
    How many more years.

  13. I hear/fear that the new policy is going to promote ‘abstinence’ as its core philosophy.. maybe we should ask the Russians how that is working out for them..

  14. Simple Jake. As you know. Full of Heroin addicts and alcoholics. Sure alcohol is taxed ah there we have the answer.

  15. Ahh I get it, if you can tax the drug and get politicians to sit on its exec boards the “harmful effects” of a drug are deemed NOT “sufficient to cause a social problem”… well at least not according to the same politicians who both sit on the boards aaand dictate policy to the home office.. who are informed by the ACMD.. who aren’t listened to anyways… A perfect system!! Maybe we should promote abstinence for alcoholics and close the 11 bars in parliament, and in the rest of the country for that matter, as if you ban something it automatically disappears.. just like all the Heroin in Russia and its non-existent hundreds of thousands of opiate addicts… doesn’t it? C’mon USA, legalise Cannabis in 2012 and bring this house of cards down! Uuurgh, sorry, rant over..

  16. Does anyone know when the new drug strategy is going to be published?

    I can’t wait to read how bad it’s going to be. I actually hope they raise cannabis to class A just for the attention it would bring to the no-logic laws surrounding it.

  17. Thay May as well Sam because it wont affect Demand. just the “Price” in lots of different ways. The amount you pay for it etc etc. Ye 2012.It Must pass. If it doesnt. Who know’s?..
    5 more years of waiting for someone to grow a pair in real Power and say enough is enough.
    Scary isnt it!.

    Peace and Pot Dec

  18. Its a very interesting topic to say the least.

    As a chronic pain sufferer, with a spinal condition that is too high-risk to operate on – I am now clinically dependent on high daily doses of prescribed oxycodone and morphine.

    I would love to be able to try ingesting the essential of cannabis to see if as a medication it could eased my chronic pain levels.

    Unfortunately the UK Government will not permit me to do so and as a result of the current law – if I want to reduce my chronic pain levels in order to be able to function … I have been left with no choice other than to become an opiate addict … which is killing me slowly ! I dont see how ingesting a small dose of medical cannabis oil can cause me any more harm than taking the prescribed meds which total 75 ml of liquid morphine per day

    I do feel that my human rights are being violated by the current policy imposed on hemp.

    I hope that the Home office may understand that there are sick people who wish to improve the remaining quality of their lives !!

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