SNP MP fights for medical cannabis access: ‘These medicines are legal, but no-one can get them’

Ronnie Cowan was among 80 MPs to deliver a petition of 570,000 signatures to 10 Downing Street calling for the guidance of medical cannabis to reviewed

SNP MP Ronnie Cowan has condemned the difficulty facing the families of severely epileptic children seeking access to medical cannabis, and has called on the UK Government to intervene.

Cowan, the vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on medical cannabis under prescription and a long-time advocate a drug law reform, was among 80 MPs to meet with a delegation of sixteen such families last week, before marching in silence up Whitehall to deliver a petition with over 570,000 signatures to 10 Downing Street, calling on the UK Government to take action and review current guidance on medical cannabis.

Access to medical cannabis was legalised after a series of high-profile cases in the summer of 2018, including that of six-year-old Alfie Dingley. However, at the present time it is believed there have been no new NHS prescriptions for the type of medical cannabis now used by Dingley, and the families of other children in similar situations have expressed their frustration at the lack of access to such medicines.

“Some have even proved that medical cannabis works for their child but have still been blocked.” SNP MP Ronnie Cowan

Cowan said: “The law was changed for good reason and the public are rightly outraged that the new policy has been introduced in a way that means these medicines are legal, but no-one can get them. 

“The stories of the families are heart-breaking. All have been refused access. Some have been told to go abroad! Some have even proved that medical cannabis works for their child but have still been blocked. 

“I’ve offered them my continuing support and previously met with the Minster for Public Health, Steve Brine MP, to press the UK Government to intervene and break this deadlock. I was pleased to be one of over 100 co-signatories on the letter to Matt Hancock urging him to intervene.”

READ MORE: As medicinal cannabis review is launched, Scottish Govt calls for control over the drug to be devolved

Labour MP Tonia Antoniazzi, another of the MPs who delivered the petition, also commented: "We want to raise the profile of the fact that the law has changed but the situation hasn't changed because children are not getting prescriptions that they need to treat their epilepsy.

"There is no guidance for doctors and someone somewhere is stopping them from prescribing medical cannabis."

Peter Carroll, from the campaign group End Our Pain added: “Last year’s law change only came about because MPs felt moved to support the high profile campaigning families last summer. 

“We have ended up in the bizarre and seemingly cruel situation in which the red tape surrounding access to medical cannabis is so tight that if the children at the centre of last year’s campaigns were put through it even they wouldn’t get a prescription. The NHS and the medical professional bodies have effectively blocked the entire policy. 

READ MORE: Analysis: Legal reform on cannabis will never come until our political class finds its nerve

“We accept that there should be a degree of caution in adopting new medicines, but the current situation is totally unacceptable”.

Responding to the delivery of the petition, a UK Government spokesperson said: "To support these doctors we have asked NICE [National Institute for Health and Care Excellence] to develop new clinical guidelines and Health Education England to provide additional training, while encouraging more national research to further improve the evidence base.”

The Scottish Government has repeatedly called on the UK Government to devolve control over cannabis to the Holyrood, most recently in June of 2018 following the announcement of a UK Government review into medicines derived from the plant.

Speaking to CommonSpace at the time, a Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We believe responsibility in this area should be devolved so that future decisions on these issues would be for the Scottish Parliament to consider.”

Picture courtesy of Mark

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