Every few years, the plight of persons who have used ‘cannabis’ to alleviate pain and suffering due to a medical condition, has captured the attention of the public. If there is to be a review of the laws relating to the medicinal use of cannabis then this is to be welcomed and long overdue. The matter might have been addressed in 2005 after the Court of Appeal felt constrained to dismiss a number of conjoined appeals in R v Quayle and others  1 WLR 3642. Each of the appellants had possessed, or cultivated or imported cannabis to alleviate pain. On the 16th June 2018, the Home Secretary tweeted that “This morning, I’ve used an exceptional power as Home Secretary to urgently issue a licence to allow Billy Caldwell to be treated with cannabis oil“.
However, in order to make progress in this area, certain issues need to be clarified and carefully understood. First, the expression “cannabis oil” is misleading. It is now used loosely to refer to a number of cannabis related substances and products. Forensic analysts will say that some oils containing THC are “controlled drugs” while other cannabis-related oils (e.g. CBD oils that do not contain any THC) will not be. Secondly, there needs to be clarity as to the forms of cannabis that have medicinal value. Merely moving “cannabis” from one schedule to another within the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001 does not answer that question. Thirdly, it is not just the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 that needs to be considered. The UK, in common with many other countries, operates a statutory regulatory regime in respect of the production, distribution and licensing of “medicinal products”. Substances and products that are presented as having medicinal properties or which function as medicines, can fall within that complex regime (see the Human Medicines Regulations 2012 and the Medicines Act 1968). A breach of the statutory provisions can lead to civil proceedings or criminal prosecution. The sooner these issues are resolved, the better.