Saturday, 27 August 2016

Thinking about #EndOurPain?

Why we support #EndOurPain and why we think #CannabisisMedicine will help the wider cause too.

United Patients Alliance are never going to apologise for putting patients first. Medical Cannabis Patients are, in fact, the reason we exist. Whilst it is true that strain choice might be different for those seeking cannabis' medical benefits than for those consuming recreationally, the substance is pretty much the same thing and whilst we may and do argue that all cannabis consumption is therapeutic, not least, thanks to its neuroprotective properties and that many who consume recreationally do so for medical reasons as well; the difference that counts for us and our patients is the primary reason for consumption: Medical or Recreational?

For our patients, there is little doubt which (if any) must come first, but in any case, does this matter in practical terms when the ultimate goal is Legal Cannabis for Adults and Cannabis as a Medicine for all?

The (final) goal remains the same - but how do we get there most efficiently?

The battle for Drug Law Reform including a legal and regulated cannabis market has never had more support, focus and more motivation - All United Patients Alliance and #EndOurPain are saying is; 

"Can we clear the sick from the battle field first please?"

The biggest criticism of a "medical-first" approach is that this will, in some way, delay or harm the full legalisation lobby and set the campaign back years. 
So I have had a little look at exactly that in the context of our current political reality.

Which is the fastest path to full legalisation of cannabis?

How likely do you think a government who debated the legalisation of cannabis and firmly rejected it last year is going to engage on the subject again this year or perhaps for many?

There is a chance that it could be made an election issue should our unmandated new PM, Theresa May decide to call one soon. Jeremy Corbyn has just publicly stated that if he retains the Labour Leadership that he would address the issues of Cannabis as a Medicine and Drug Law Reform as a matter of urgency, but realistically it doesn't really matter, as the Conservatives would win an early GE no matter what they said about cannabis so unlikely to be a risk she would think was worth taking as she aims for a election victory.

Opinion Polls 

There have been a number of opinion polls both public and private over the last couple of years and the political picture is pretty clear, today;
58% of current MPs support cannabis as a medicine, however, only 18% currently support full legalisation.

Whilst the significant majority of the UK public support cannabis as a medicine, it is still only 32% who support full legalisation. So there is quite a way to go before getting there.

Support amongst the public might not be as high as you think? 

Just for this - 24 months/2 years as a minimum - PLUS:

How long will it take to actually pass a bill to legalise cannabis if such a decision was made?

Taking a Bill Through Parliament

It takes about a year, on average; I would estimate at least 18 months for something as complex as this and then a further 6 months (at least) to implement it.

So realistically there is little likelihood that it will happen, from a standing start, within the next 5 years? I honestly doubt it.......from a standing start. Add that to the minimum 2 years it would take to pass and implement and you have:

7 years: Earliest Date for legalisation of cannabis in the UK: September 2023


In every single US State (excl: California; an exception on many levels) that has introduced a medical access policy, public opinion on full legalisation has swung to positive from any start in between 20 and 30 months. Whilst their politicians have been slow to act on this, I think our political system is more "public opinion" driven and as such could work faster, or at least at the low end; Let's say 2 years?


There is a way, one way, to get this process on the go early, perhaps very early!? Introduce cannabis as a medicine to the UK without actually having to change any laws:

If cannabis were to be moved from its current Schedule 1 status and some policy changes could be made by the MHRA to permit the approval of herbal based medicines, this would allow doctors to prescribe cannabis and for a pharmacy to fulfil the prescription from existing and future pharmaceutical grade products from around the world.

(Specialist Licensed Dispensaries would need a law change and licenses/policies defined - it can't happen immediately but probably will at some point in the future)
(Schedule 2 would suffice but would make importing much more complex and with Sativex already in Schedule 4, that seems more reasonable. De-Scheduling is simply highly unlikely for now)

Sources for the pharmacy could be any "pharmaceutical grade" formulation of cannabis currently approved for use across Europe as we already have a trade agreement in place. (Not withstanding #Brexit) There are a growing number of these formulations being researched and produced across Europe with a broadening range of strains, extracts, edibles and tinctures that can be introduced, as they become available. The door will have been well and truly been opened.

So what about Grow Your Own?

Amongst #EndOurPain, #UPA, #VolteFace or #APPG or #Transform or....oh well, you get the picture, I am not aware of a single voice that does not agree that people should be left alone to grow their own (within regulations that need to be debated). However to address this in law takes us back to square 1 again; Law change! 
There are things that can be done more quickly and without changing the law though and logic dictates most of it:

Once you have introduced herbal cannabis into the UK for medical reasons, the first check that will need to be made by the police, if you are caught in possession is whether you have a prescription. This will drive 2 unwanted impacts; Many, many people going to their doctor to get prescriptions and an immediate increase in prescription fraud. Arrests would become harder to justify, mistakes will be made and successful prosecutions would become very expensive and far more difficult. The only logical thing to do to prevent this would be to decriminalise personal grows; This only requires some policy changes. The argument is being prepared. it will be being made at some point along the way. You can help by helping to make the case.

So what about Mental Health?

For politicians this is dodgy ground. Many of them and most of the public are convinced that there is a negative causal relationship between cannabis and mental health because that is how they have been led by the Red Top press.
Not for long, though. The most authoritative and up to date review of the medical efficacy for many conditions by a qualitative study of the research is about to be published by a top UK Consultant Neurologist. Within this report are a number of mental health benefits which will get significant focus during the APPG's campaign supported by #EndOurPain and by the results of #UPAs cannabis patient survey showing how high a priority and benefit it actually is, whilst recognising that there is a small minority of the population who are under 18 and with a predisposition to mental illness who may experience negative consequences and should be cautious.

Cannabis Clubs/Collectives?

It's all there in the Expert Panel Report? Perhaps some of the suggested regulations need a bit of work, but setting them from a "cautious" starting point was a wise move in order to get the report passed. If and once it gets debated all the regulations and many other aspects can be explored and agreed.

Right now there is a slim, but real chance that #EndOurPain's goals are achievable in 2017 and will set us firmly on the road to full reform. It will depend on a number of things; this is politics, love it or loathe it and how your cards are played is important. For those who feel that it does not go far enough; How early would you show your whole hand, if you wanted to win?
It's not secrecy, it's strategy.

Once cannabis becomes more widely accepted and normalised due to its medical uses, the benefits understood and the risks in perspective, once there is a set of results, medically, criminally, financially the rest will surely follow much more quickly, than from a standing start?

That sets the realistic earliest date for full regulation and legalisation of cannabis in the UK:
April 2019 - April 2020 (with many/most patients and personal growers sorted in 2017)

That beats the Full Legalisation Only, by a full 3 years and probably more.

Support Change and Support #EndOurPain now

With financial backing, professional campaigners, structure and a strategic plan, along with 44 MPs, 13 Peers, 4 Celebrities and over 22500 supporters in 6 months it is not going to stop and it is going to be successful; it is not about whether you like #EndOurPain's wording or what you think about those who are helping to drive it and/or pay for it; The UK is in the process of changing. This is how it is going to change; the only way you can effect the outcome is by getting on board; Lets build the future together.

Do it now, here: End Our Pain

Jon Liebling – Political Director of United Patients Alliance

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