Doctors in Britain will be able to legally prescribe medicinal cannabis from Nov. 1, after two highly publicized cases of young, epileptic patients dependent on marijuana-based treatments put pressure on the government to review its policy.
The change was announced on Thursday by Home Secretary Sajid Javid, after he called for an urgent review of cannabis-based medicinal products over the summer and his office said in July it had decided that “senior clinicians will be able to prescribe the medicines to patients with an exceptional clinical need.”
Mr. Javid said on Thursday, “Having been moved by heartbreaking cases involving sick children, it was important to me that we took swift action to help those who can benefit from medicinal cannabis.”
The home secretary commissioned the review after the cannabis-based medicine of Billy Caldwell, 12, who has life-threatening epileptic seizures, was confiscated at Heathrow Airport on June 11. The case was publicized in the British news media and prompted a national discussion on the legalization of medicinal cannabis products.
Earlier, the mother of 6-year-old Alfie Dingley, who also has up to 150 seizures a month, said that Prime Minister Theresa May had promised to help explore alternative treatments for the boy, but that she never followed through.
Mr. Javid later announced that the British government would allow both Alfie and Billy temporary special licenses to legally take marijuana-based treatment.
“We have now delivered on our promise and specialist doctors will have the option to prescribe these products where there is a real need,” the home secretary said on Thursday.
General practice doctors will not be authorized to prescribe the cannabis-based medicines, the Home Office noted, and prescription decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis — “only when the patient has an unmet special clinical need that cannot be met by licensed products,” the statement read.
The measures apply to England, Wales, and Scotland, while Northern Ireland intends to undertake similar legislative amendments.
The Home Office also clarified that the legalization of cannabis-derived medicinal products did not clear the way toward legalizing cannabis for recreational use. “The penalties for unauthorized supply and possession will remain unchanged,” the office said.
In July, after Mr. Javid said the government would ease restrictions on the cannabis-based products, Billy’s mother, Charlotte Caldwell, told Sky News: “I applaud the home secretary for his swift movements in rescheduling cannabis. To me, now the home secretary is king of hearts.”
In the United States, California became the first state to legalize medical cannabis, in 1996. Currently, 30 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medicinal or recreational use. Canada is set to legalize marijuana next week.