While the sale, possession or use of cannabis has been illegal in the UK since 1971, when the Misuse of Drugs Act was introduced, calls are now being made for the laws restricting the drug to be reviewed.
Prime Minister Theresa May is facing increasing political pressure to review the law after a string of MPs called for reform.
Calls to relax the law
The pressure to review the law comes following widespread outrage over the confiscation of cannabis oil from a mother who bought the product for her 12 year old son, Billy Caldwell, who suffers from acute epilepsy.
Billy was granted a 20 day emergency licence to use the oil by Home Secretary Sajid Javid after he was rushed to hospital on Friday night in a critical condition, having suffered multiple seizures.
The incident has prompted UK parliament to debate the issue again, discussing whether they should partially legalise the drug for medicinal purposes.
What are the arguments for?
One of the strongest arguments for legalising cannabis is for its medicinal benefits, with the drug being praised for its pain relieving properties.
Ms Caldwell credits cannabis oil with keeping her son’s seizures at bay, saying he was seizure-free for more than 300 days while using it. The oil in question is banned in the UK despite being available in many other countries.
“The fact that Billy has been discharged is testimony to the effectiveness of the treatment and underlines how vital it is that every child and every single family affected in our country should have immediate access to the very same medication,” she said.
Former Conservative leader William Hague has called for the government to rethink its cannabis policy, stating that the war against the drug has been lost.
“Everyone sitting in a Whitehall conference room needs to recognise that, out there, cannabis is ubiquitous, and issuing orders to the police to defeat its use is about as up-to-date and relevant as asking the Army to recover the Empire,” Hague wrote in The Telegraph.
“This battle is effectively over.”
Support from MPs
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has also come forward to support the use of medicinal cannabis oil, following the confiscation from the Caldwell family.
“I don’t think anyone who followed that story could sensibly say that we are getting the law on this kind of thing right. I think we all know that we need to find a different way,” Hunt said on BBC Radio 4.
Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott stated that Labour is in support of the legal prescription of cannabis oil for medical purposes.
“Children have been put at risk and experienced extraordinary suffering because this government drags its heels and refuses to grant cannabis oil licences,” she said.
What are the arguments against?
While many MPs have spoken out in support of legalising the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes, the Prime Minister has been much more cautious in her response to the Billy Caldwell case.
“Do we need to look at these cases and consider what we’ve got in place? Yes,” said May.
“But what needs to drive us in all of these cases has to be what clinicians are saying about these issues.
“There’s a very good reason why we’ve got a set of rules around cannabis and other drugs, because of the impact that they have on people’s lives, and we must never forget that.”
Despite the widespread praise for the pain relieving benefits of cannabis, legalising the drug brings about concerns of increased usage, rises in crime and a negative impact on public health.
The NHS warn of a number of health risks associated with cannabis use, including:
- Increased risk of developing a psychotic illness, such as schizophrenia
- Increased risk of bronchitis
- Greater likelihood of being injured in a road traffic accident
- Fertility problems
- Increased risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke