The Government have approved a number of clinical trials into the medicinal use of cannabis. Once the results of the trials have been properly evaluated, we will have an evidence base that will allow us to decide how to proceed.
I thank my hon. Friend for that answer, but it will come as little relief to the thousands of people throughout the country who suffer the torment of multiple sclerosis. They include a courageous but desperate constituent of mine: courageous because she has allowed me to use her name—indeed, she has encouraged me to do so—and desperate because she suffers the pain of MS. Until relatively recently, she was an undercover drugs squad officer with West Midlands police; it was her job to pursue and lock up people who peddle drugs. Now, she is out on the streets trying to secure her only relief from the pain that she suffers. Will my hon. Friend assure me that she and her colleagues will try to persuade the Home Office and the police service that such people are victims, not criminals? They are victims of the torment of MS, and they should not be made victims of injustice.
I sympathise with any patient who is suffering and feels that an effective medicine is not available. However, as with any chronic illness, it is important to evaluate the benefits and risks of treatment. It is therefore extremely important that the research that we are undertaking is properly supervised. It involves 660 MS sufferers and there will be a report in 2003. We shall make a decision based on that clinical evidence.
It is important to put it on the record that the possession of cannabis is against the law for good scientific reasons in terms of acute and chronic health effects. However, at each stage of the criminal justice system, there is discretion to allow for public interest considerations to be weighed in the balance. It is right that each case should be considered on its merit; to do otherwise would raise issues of constitutional propriety. The important point is that cannabis and any medicine that is used must be properly tested and assessed. Only when it is seen to be safe and effective will it be used in the NHS.
Does the Minister accept that there has for a long time been evidence of the benefit of cannabis to MS sufferers? Is it not time that the Government made more rapid progress to relieve those people of worries about potential law-breaking, or that they might be unable to get the cannabis that they need for their treatment? Will the hon. Lady give an undertaking that, if necessary, legislation will be introduced when she has enough evidence to make that decision?
That is precisely what we are doing. That is why the trials were set up in 1999 and why £950,000 has been put into them. They will be properly conducted and the results properly assessed. When those involved report back with their evidence, we shall take appropriate action. However, that action will be based on reliable scientific evidence and not on anecdotal evidence, which is what we have had so far.
Cannabis has been trialled and tested for 5,000 years in every continent by millions of people, and it has not had any serious side effect throughout that period. One hundred Members of Parliament, the majority of the British Medical Association and the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology all agree that natural cannabis should now be used medicinally. Is it not ironic that Clare Hodges, who has gone to the Belgium Parliament and convinced it to change its law in the past three months to allow medicinal cannabis to be prescribed, has to go on the streets of this country to get her own cannabis? She is an MS sufferer. Another MS sufferer was dragged through the courts six months ago. The policy is stupid and cruel.
We need to draw a clear distinction between a drug that is illegal—that is, cannabis—and a medicine that is used within the NHS. The medicine will be used only when it has been properly trialled and tested under clinical conditions. That is what is happening in respect of the medicinal use of cannabis, and it is the right and proper way to proceed.