The growing clamour for using medicinal weed in the UK reached boiling point this month, following a public outcry over the Home Office confiscating cannabis oil used by severely epileptic 12-year old Billy Caldwell. After his medicine was taken away, Caldwell was hospitalised in a critical condition and suffered multiple seizures.
In response to Caldwell’s case, the Home Office issued a 20-day emergency licence to use the cannabis oil, alongside an emergency prescription for Alfie Dingley, whose parents had been taking him the Netherlands to treat his rare form of epilepsy with cannabis-based medicine. This is because Britain has some of the strictest laws on the use of medicinal marijuana in western Europe.
Home secretary Sajid Javid announced he would review cannabis for medicinal purposes, and has formed an expert panel to handle the task. This panel has revealed that prescriptions of the drug could be made available to patients where there is a “exceptional clinical need” within the next two to four weeks.
Doctors supporting medicinal cannabis claim that the drug is effective in the treatment of a number of conditions, including chronic pain, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, chemotherapy-induced nausea, and PTSD. Still, research into the benefits of medicinal weed has been limited due to legislative restrictions.
There are an increasing number of high-profile supporters of the plant, including Damian Marley and Professor Green called for the legalisation of cannabis for medicinal purposes at an NME panel event in Westminster.
Indeed, medicinal cannabis is legal in some form in at least 30 countries worldwide. We take a look at some of the nations where weed is legal for medical uses, and what the reaction has been like.
When: In June 2018, Canada became the second country in the world – after Uruguay – to fully legalise cannabis, with the legislation expected to come into effect in mid-October. Steve Rolles, senior policy analyst at the campaign group Transform, believes that this will take the form of a “retail model.” He told NME: “In most of the provinces the retailing will be a state monopoly, a bit like the alcohol system in some Canadian states. You will have commercial producers who can produce different products, but it will be packaged in non-branded packaging.” Canada had already legalised the regulated use of cannabis for medical purposes back in 2001.
What has been the reaction? Overwhelmingly positive. The move to legalise cannabis in Canada was supported by prime minister Justin Trudeau. The use of medical marijuana is also soaring in the country – it’s been reported that more than 200,000 people in Canada are registered to use the drug for medical reasons. And in 2016, a poll found that seven in 10 Canadians supported the legalisation of cannabis. The government will also tax cannabis when it is fully legalised, and has projected an annual market of about C$4 billion (about £2.4 million) for legalized marijuana.
When: On March 29 2017, the Argentine senate approved the use of Cannabidiol for medical reasons. Medical cannabis had already been legalised in the provinces of Chubut and Santa Fe. Cannabis was also decriminalised for personal use in small amounts in the country in 2009, following a Supreme Court ruling.
What has been the reaction? The senate approved the bill for medical cannabis unanimously, which was heavily backed by organisations like the Medical Cannabis Argentina group.However, it’s been reported that others have criticised the legislation.
When: The Australian government legalised growing cannabis for medical and scientific reasons on 24 February 2016. Medical cannabis can now be prescribed in all Australian states.
What has been the reaction? Largely positive. The legalisation of cannabis for medical uses was backed by senators from the main political parties. Medical marijuana is now legal in all Australian states, but each state has its owns laws about the ways it can be prescribed. The Australian government also recently approved exports of medical cannabis, and has outlined plans to become the world’s top suppliers of the drug for medical reasons.
When: In December 2013, Uruguay made history when it became the first country in the modern era to legalise cannabis – it has even introduced a regulatory system for the drug.The legislation means that unbranded cannabis can be bought from certain pharmacies. As Rolles explains to NME: “Uruguayan model is almost a state monopoly, so you can only buy cannabis from a pharmacy and you have to register on a database. They only sell unbranded cannabis, and there’s only a couple of varieties, so it’s much more restricted but it is still legal and you can still buy it.” The government also allows people to grow up to six plants at home, and also allowed “growing clubs”, which must be registered, and can grow up to 99 cannabis plants annually.
What has been the reaction? Although Uruguay’s legislation made headlines worldwide – with some groups praising the groundbreaking move – polls indicate that around 60 per cent of Uruguayans opposed the reform. The legalisation of pharmacies selling cannabis also took longer than expected – and was only implemented in 2017.
When: As of January 1 2018, GPs in Denmark have been able to prescribe medical cannabis to certain patients as part of a four-year trial. These patients include those suffering from multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, spinal cord injuries, and nausea or vomiting as a result of having chemotherapy. In 2011, he Danish Medicines Agency had already approved three types of cannabis derivatives (Sativex, Marinol, and Nabilone) for medical use, which require prescription. In 2017, Danish farmers were permitted to grow cannabis under specific conditions with a special permit.
What has been the reaction? Mostly supportive. A Gallup poll reported by the Danish press indicated that about 88 per cent of Danes support the medical use of cannabis. Government figures also show that doctors prescribed medical cannabis 131 times between January 1 and January 29.
When: California paved the way for the use of marijuana in the US, when it legalised the plant for medical purposes in 1996 using a commercialised model. In 2016, the state legalised the recreational use of the drug for adults aged 21 and older, too. Now, about 30 states in the country allowing the drug to be used for medical reasons, but each state has its own system. There is also a growing push to legalise cannabis for recreational uses in America. As of 2018, eight states have legalised the recreational use of the drug: California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Washington, Oregon, Nevada and Alaska.
What has been the reaction? The majority of Californians have supported California’s cannabis legislation. In 1996, 56 per cent of voters in the state approved a clause to legalise the drug for medical reasons. And, in 2016, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act was passed having received a 57 per cent ‘yes’ vote.
When: Marijuana was legalised for medical purposes in Colorado in 2000 – and for recreational uses for adults aged 21 and older in 2012. However, the state had decriminalised the drug back in 1975.
What has been the reaction? Supportive. Some 54 per cent of voters in Colorado supported allowing cannabis for medical reasons in 2000, and more than 55 per cent of voters backed legalising the drug for recreational uses in 2012. In 2014, Colorado’s legal marijuana market reached sales of $700 million (about £530 million).
When: The country decriminalised cannabis in 1953, and has famously allowed the sale of the plant for recreational uses in so-called “coffee shops” since 1976. Five types of medical cannabis are legal in the Netherlands, and are regulated by a government body called the Office for Medicinal Cannabis.
What has been the reaction? It was reported that doctors prescribed medical cannabis in 50,000 casesThe use of medical marijuana has soared in the Netherlands, suggesting the drug is hugely popular. in 2017 – an increase of 4000 per cent when compared to the previous five years.
When: The Portuguese parliament passed a bill allowing the use of certain cannabis-based medicines this June, which now needs to be signed into law by president Marcelo Rebelo de Souza. But, in 2001, a groundbreaking law in Portugal decriminalised possession of all drugs – including heroin and cocaine – so long as it isn’t more than a 10 day supply.
What has been the reaction? The legalisation of medical cannabis has been strongly backed by the Portuguese Medical Association.Also, since the decriminalisation of drugs in the country, Portugal has among the lowest drug-related death rate in Europe – and HIV infections have sharply fallen. The EU average for drug overdose deaths is 17.3 per million – but in Portugal this figure drops to just three deaths for every one million citizens.
When: Norway has relaxed its laws on cannabis in recent years. In 2016, the country legalised cannabis for medical uses. And, in 2017, Norway’s government said it would decriminalise the personal drug use, including the possession of up to 15 grams of cannabis per individual.
What has been the reaction? It’s hard – and possibly too early – to tell. Research suggests that about 53 per cent of Norwegians support the legalisation of cannabis for medical reasons. Norway’s parliament has moved to decriminalise drugs for a similar reason to Portugal – to focus on treatment and prevention, rather than punishment. Norway’s 2017 Country Drug Report revealed that there were 266 drug-related deaths.