In January the British Government finally admitted to the fact that cannabis has some medical value. The UK government’s Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency announced that cannabis plant based CBD (cannabinol) is now recognized as an ingredient in medical products.
Over the past 3 years there has a been a boom in CBD product usage in the UK (in the forms of oils and vape pens), because it was not a scheduled substance, unlike THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). These two compounds of the cannabis plant have distinctive qualities – THC produces the psychoactive ‘high’ that recreational consumers enjoy, while CBD has relaxation qualities (without the high) that are beneficial for medical users.
While some cannabis campaigners see this as a sign that the UK government may be shifting its position on cannabis (in the past it has repeatedly refused to acknowledge that the plant has any therapeutic value), medical users are concerned that this could affect their ability to obtain CBD to treat their conditions. This is because, now it has been recognized as having medical value, regulations are being tightened and CBD suppliers will require a license.
UK Weed Scene
Cannabis has always been popular in the UK and the British government estimates that 6.7% of the population aged between 16 to 59 used cannabis last year. However, despite marijuana reforms taking place across the globe, the UK government has stubbornly resisted softening its hard line position. The new Prime Minister, Theresa May, made her reputation as a tough talking Home Secretary with no sympathy for the cause of cannabis legalization.
In 2015, British MPs (Members of Parliament) debated the legalization of cannabis, after an online petition raised 220,000 signatures supporting the cause, but any change to the law was dismissed by the Justice Minister. One MP accused the government of hypocrisy, claiming the current law criminalized thousands of young people when “probably 50% of the government have tried cannabis.”
The plant remains illegal in Britain and users and cannabis growers are still the target of police action across much of the country. The sensationalist British media, led by tabloids such as The Sun and The Daily Mail, continue to fixate on the ‘cannabis causes psychosis’ argument and busted home grows are repeatedly reported in the news as ‘skunk factories’.
However, there are signs that some attitudes are changing – although it is dependent on where you live in the UK. In the county (district) of Durham, the police chief was widely reported for saying his force would not prioritize chasing after people with small numbers of plants, and other senior policemen also admitted similar policies across the UK. In November 2016, influential think tank, the Adam Smith Institute called the Government’s cannabis policy an “embarrassment”.
While in the short term, the new British government pronouncement on CBD may not be good news for medical users who have been able to obtain CBD products freely, it could be positive in the longer term. As the experiences of the USA and other countries have shown, a change in government attitude towards medical cannabis has contributed to wider acceptance in society. It may be a small step in the right direction… but it is a step at least!