Queen’s Speech - Debate (4th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:29 pm on 27th June 2017.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench 6:29 pm, 27th June 2017

My Lords, I will address a matter which risks getting lost in the battle for Brexit but which urgently needs Home Office attention. I refer to the hundreds of thousands of severely and chronically ill patients whose symptoms are currently not controlled. These patients are enduring years or whole lives with appalling symptoms and side-effects of prescribed medications. Tens of thousands of patients are risking arrest every day in order to obtain from illegal drug dealers the one medicine—cannabis—which they say controls their pain or other symptoms with minimal side effects. Cannabis is a schedule 1 drug—the schedule for dangerous drugs with no medicinal properties. This is outrageous, frankly: contrary to the evidence and cruel to patients.

Ministers have shied away from reform in fear of the Daily Mail. Well, the Daily Mail has become enlightened on this issue—although I cannot believe it, frankly. Ministers would do well to read the excellent article by Jonathan Gornall in the Daily Mail on Tuesday 2 May. The article focuses on Faye—this is where we become a bit more sombre—who woke up one morning, poor girl, with crippling rheumatoid arthritis, aged 27. A life sentence. Every joint from her jaw to her toes was swollen, stiff and incredibly painful. The drugs prescribed for Faye, she says,

“became more disruptive to daily life than the disease itself”— difficult to imagine. They left her constantly sick, in a brain fog, and suffering panic attacks and from low blood sugar—this is all in the Daily Mail. Faye was determined to work but obviously she could not if she remained on the prescribed drugs. She heard about cannabis—nervously, I am sure—and, for the first time in her life, tried it using a vaporizer. Faye now also takes a nightly pill of cannabis oil, but no other medication, and claims that her quality of life is now 98% of what it was before she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. I have to say that I am staggered. The Daily Mail asks whether Faye should be prosecuted for using cannabis oil to ease her chronic pain—obviously not.

The Minister could resolve this scandalous position by signing an order to reschedule cannabis to schedule 2 or 4—a little stroke of the pen. There is international research to support such a reform. Professor Mike Barnes, in his research review, shows that the human brain and other organs contain an endocannabinoid system. This system modulates pain, controls movement, protects nerve cells and plays a role in other key brain processes. It is not then surprising that the plant cannabis, with umpteen cannabinoids, can benefit us by mimicking the effects of our own endocannabinoid system.

Barnes finds good evidence for cannabis in the management of chronic pain, including neuropathic pain; spasticity; nausea and vomiting, particularly in the context of chemotherapy; and anxiety. There is also moderate evidence of medicinal benefit for sleep disorders; appetite stimulation, again in the context of chemotherapy; fibromyalgia; PTSD; and some symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. I could go on, but would no doubt bore your Lordships. Eleven countries in Europe, including Germany and the majority of US states, recognise cannabis as a legitimate medicine. The UN now recognises the need for reform within the UN conventions and that drug policy should finally, after 50 to 60 years, become evidence based. Last October. the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, the MHRA, declared one of the two major ingredients of cannabis, CBD, a medicine. It is difficult to argue that this plant has no medical value.

Police officers are refusing to arrest patients found with cannabis. Of course, if people overdose drastically on cannabis, or children take it regularly, this will not be good for them. But, of course, the same applies to aspirin, does it not? I simply want to get across to Ministers and to Members of your Lordships’ House that a civilised country can no longer justify treating this precious plant as a dangerous drug with no medicinal value. No one has ever been killed by cannabis; people die every day as a result of taking alcohol, tobacco and prescribed medicines.

There is no possible justification for our laws as they stand. It is time for the Government to act. Will the Minister give an assurance to your Lordships’ House that this matter will be referred to the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs for advice?