Parliamentary Debate in Westminster Hall - October 12th 2015
There are 4 things that I and all the medical cannabis patients that United Patients Alliance represent and ultimately the estimated 3.6m cannabis consumers will take from the debate that took place in Westminster Hall on 12th October 2015
- The government don't care about evidence
- The government believe that banning things works in spite of all the evidence to the contrary (see point 1)
- The government wish to continue criminalising all cannabis consumers even if they have a medical need (see point 1)
- The government's petitions process is nothing more than smoke and mirrors
Shifting the Debate into the small Westminster Hall did give the public an opportunity to attend the debate in person, though it was "rammed" and most, including myself could not get a seat, however it does also speak of the priority this debate was given, and being that a very small number of MPs actually attended the debate, perhaps the government got exactly what they wanted. The problem with this is that the 221 000 people who signed the debate, the estimated 1m medical cannabis patients and the estimated 3.6m UK citizens who consume it regularly certainly did not and will be deeply disappointed about that and disillusioned further regarding the democratic and petitions processes.
Summary of the main points and contributors during the debate
Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab) leading and opening the debate spoke in detail about the ineffectiveness of the existing policy and the succession of governments who have dodged the issue for over 40 years:
"The [Government's] response could have been written 20 years ago. It does not reflect our current knowledge and experience or the serious case that has been made for decriminalising cannabis......No Government have had the sense to introduce a policy that could be described as intelligent.
We jail more people as a proportion of the population than anywhere else on the planet, except the United States. We end up with all the problems that emanate from the abuse of drugs, but we gain none of the medical advantages that we would have if we liberated people so that they could use their medicine of choice. The Home Office has admitted [in the International Comparator's Report 2014] that there is no correlation between harsh punishment, harsh penalties and the use of drugs."
He then went on to talk about what has happened in other places that have made changes to policy:
"People in America suggested that if cannabis were decriminalised for recreational purposes, there would be all kinds of consequences, but in Colorado and Washington, decriminalisation of cannabis took place a year ago, and the disasters have not occurred. The evidence shows no spike in cannabis use among young people and no increase in road fatalities. What there has been, of course, is a large reduction in the criminal market"
He finished off his opening statement thus:
"Cannabis is the oldest medicine in the world. It has been trialled and tested by tens of millions of people over 5,000 years. If there were any problems with natural cannabis, that would have been apparent a long time ago. The case for medical cannabis, including in its natural form, is overwhelming. It is barbaric to deny people their medicine of choice. There can be no justification for doing that."
Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con):
"My constituent Bernadette McCreadie suffers from Crohn’s disease and psoriatic arthritis, and she is
allergic to most of the pharmaceutical medicines that are prescribed—in fact, they have given her ulcers. She has found effective pain relief only through cannabis"
Mr Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con):
"When looking at the evidence, I conclude that we need not just to decriminalise cannabis, but to legalise its sale and use"
"the medical arguments are overwhelming. I cannot think of any good reasons for not allowing the use of cannabis and its derivatives for medical purposes"
"A Lancet review of all the medical evidence on the use of cannabis said that “on the medical evidence available, moderate indulgence in cannabis has little ill-effect on health, and decisions to ban or to legalise cannabis should be based on other considerations.”
“It’s surely better that it’s readily available but regulated, than unregulated and readily available anyway. The increasing strength of cannabis is a symptom of prohibition, much as people switched from beer to spirits in prohibition America, because it was easier to make and transport.
The truth is that it is only the criminalisation of the supply of cannabis that makes it into a gateway drug. Because cannabis users can obtain it only from illegal sources, they are forced into contact with the illegal gangs that will try to persuade them to move on to hard drugs. Prohibition of cannabis drives soft drug users into the arms of hard drug pushers. Only by providing some legal outlets for cannabis can we break the contact between cannabis users and those pushing cocaine, crack and heroin"
"Our Government should stop hiding behind largely spurious and bogus health concerns which at very best are greatly exaggerated and at worst, non-existent.It is policy-based evidence—evidence that has been looked for to justify a policy, rather than being found and leading to a policy. It is similar to the sort of thing we find in the global warming debate
Dr Paul Monaghan (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (SNP):
"I have had the privilege of being the director of the Inverness Multiple Sclerosis Therapy Centre. Cannabis has brought some relief to some sufferers of MS, and I am anxious to support those individuals."
"Cannabis is already an important medicine. The many applications of cannabis as a medicine are impeded by its inclusion in schedule 1 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. Schedule 1 drugs are controlled substances considered to have no medicinal value. A simple change to schedule 2 would recognise the drug’s undoubted medicinal value and place it on a par with opiates. It would also enable research to be carried out into the vast potential for a range of medical applications and facilitate relief for thousands of people, including the many who suffer from MS and epilepsy who are not helped by other medicines"
"More than 20 states in the USA have provision for the supply of medicinal cannabis. In Europe, medicinal cannabis is produced in the Netherlands, and it is available on application by a physician in the following European countries: Italy, Finland, Switzerland and Germany. Recently, Canada also legalised the use of medicinal cannabis."
Dr Daniel Poulter (Central Suffolk and North Ipswich) (Con):
"Many people see cannabis as a harmless substance that helps people to relax and chill—a drug that, unlike alcohol and cigarettes, might even be good for their physical and mental health. I will come to the point that that is clearly not the case"
He then went on to echo quotes the Royal College of Psychiatrists web page which says,
“Over the last 15 years, skunk has invaded the street market and its THC content is about 2-3 times higher than the ‘traditional’ cannabis used in earlier years. There is growing evidence that people with serious mental illness are more likely to use cannabis or have used it for long periods of time in the past.
However he does them go on to recognise that there is a legitimate discussion about reverse causality or whether people with these disorders use it as a medication?"
He also accepts that the current situation impacts medical research which he said needed to be looked at so we can provide easier and more effective support of the potential medical benefits in pain control in terminal and progressive illnesses.
"A number of studies in the United States have shown that cannabis has potential medicinal benefits for pain relief in palliative care, so will we in this country be able to consider some of those issues? If we can help patients use pain control better to manage the symptoms of terminal or progressive diseases or illnesses, that has to be a good thing. We would not want the unintended consequences of the current legal framework to get in the way of achieving that."
Please note the the research to which he is referring is from 2002 since when there have been many, better and more up to date papers and research pointing to exactly the opposite. I have asked him why he feels that 13 year old research really is the best evidence he could find. I have sent him a few more recent studies such as this one from Keele University. 600000 people over 7 years.
Norman Lamb (North Norfolk) (LD):
"I am acutely aware of the co-morbidity of mental ill health and drug use, but often people who suffer from mental ill health resort to cannabis for relief. Then we choose to criminalise them. It is a remarkable thing to do in a so-called civilised society."
"Senior politicians are frequently challenged about their use of cannabis and other drugs in their teenage and early adult years. Those who admit to such drug use laugh it off as a youthful indiscretion, apparently comfortable with the fact that tens of thousands of their fellow countrymen and women—usually people less fortunate than the politicians who reach the top of Government—end up with a criminal record for doing precisely the same thing."
"Change is happening, and I desperately want the United Kingdom to consider the evidence and not base policy on fear, stigma and prejudice. The case [for legalisation] is overwhelming. I urge the Government to act and listen to the evidence"
Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green):
"This Government, like successive Governments, have set their face against the evidence? If we look
at an evidence-based approach, there is absolutely no correlation between a drug’s legal status and the amount it gets used. In other words, prohibition simply does not work"
A quote from David Cameron 2005:
“Drugs policy has been failing for decades. We need fresh thinking and a new approach. It would be disappointing if radical options on the law on cannabis were not looked at.”
"Sadly, all too many politicians do once they have secured power—ignored the evidence and, in the face of what can be a hostile media environment, retreated to the status quo"
"I am fully persuaded, because a strong evidence base justifies looking in much more detail at exactly how we should regulate the production and supply of cannabis for medicinal purposes."
"Successive Governments have used carefully calibrated snapshots in time in an attempt to illustrate that the laws are working to reduce drug use, but if one looks at overall trends over time the only thing that is really certain is that there is no link between illegality and use"
Dr Lisa Cameron (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (SNP):
She says people with long term mental illness are more likely to have taken cannabis. She also cites a study that suggests adolescents that use cannabis daily are five times more likely to develop depression later in life.
she did have to admit that her conclusions did not take into account wider statistics that do not support them.
Anne McLaughlin (Glasgow North East) (SNP):
Anne McLaughlin pointed out the divide in how drugs can affect the life chances of middle class and working class young people caught doing drugs. She says working class young people are much more likely to have trouble getting work with a drug conviction.
She also claims, probably correctly, to be the only MP in the room with a Rastafarian partner. While she says he doesn’t take cannabis, the drug is a part of his religion - and he asks where his civil liberties lie in that respect.
She believes that there should be more research on the issue
Lyn Brown MP (LAB)
Spoke of a postcode lottery in policing and convictions, and racial and socio-economic disparity. She said that criminalisation hinders job prospects and whilst she doesn’t want to see cannabis legalised for medical use as we have Sativex she urges change on this aspect to free up access to this prescription medicine.
Mike Penning MP (Hemel Hempstead) (CON) and Minister for State for Justice
Justice Minister Mike Penning refused to consider the decriminalisation of cannabis though did make small and coded references to “looking at evidence” for how the current act is affecting people.
“I am not going to stand here and say we are going to legalise cannabis. From a moral position, from a government position, from a personal position.”
He did concede that there may be scope for doing research on the effects that some of the legislation has had:
“There is conflicting evidence in studies across the world.”
He says in Portugal they have a completely different strategy with their health service, and its “too early” to see what’s happening in Washington.
He was interrupted once by Caroline Lucas who with incredulity stated that:
It was shocking that despite his lip service to the medical professionals who spoke in the debate, Penning appears to have “little interest in the evidence” available.
In his closing argument, Paul Flynn begged the government to "think again and help MS sufferers to ease their pain" - to a quickly admonished round of applause from the public gallery.
and added “Does anyone believe that that law is sensible? That law is an ass! For so long, this House has been held back from full-scale reform by the timidity of Members of Parliament, because of a reluctance to reform for fear of being attacked by the media and losing votes. Now is the time for compassion and courage"
I agree with him!
The debate has provided a huge amount of compelling evidence and from the MPs who were present, took part and who I would like to extend the thanks of all United Patients Alliance patients for their passion and commitment. The government through their Minister for Justice, Mike Penning have once again ignored justice and have stuck firmly to their evidence free position without offering any reasonable or rational justification. He seemed particularly proud of the information, based on 14 year old, inaccurate research from a single organisation, The Royal College of Psychiatry, which presumably he had to try really hard to find but ignores the comments from these other expert organisations:
and then to ignore most of the points raise and restating the government's intention to continue their criminalisation is uncaring, ignorant, insulting and ultimately totally unsympathetic. My Penning, you are a hypocrite and a liar and you should be ashamed of yourself.
He did concede that legal medical access to cannabis based pharmaceuticals and addressing the research difficulties were things for them to “look at”, he completely ignored every other point made which challenged this harmful, costly and ineffective law.
We, the 3.6m regular cannabis consumers of the UK demand that the government provide a detailed, referenced and properly considered response to all the points raised within the debate. Anything less would show this process to be nothing more than smoke and mirrors.
I would ask them directly the 2 questions asked by Norman Lamb to which Mr Penning refused to answer:
- · Does the Minister really think it is appropriate to give someone who is perhaps suffering from mental ill health a criminal record?
- · Can the Minister give any explanation of why it makes sense for that more dangerous product to be legal while a less dangerous product is illegal?”
It is time to redouble our efforts. Write again to MPs and demand a proper, respectful response. Be in their email boxes, in their media, in their offices and in their faces. We absolutely will not stop until they listen and ACT.
Jon Liebling – Political Director of United Patients Alliance