We Need Better Access to Medical Cannabis
Today I am reflecting on Medical Cannabis Awareness Week that ran from 1st to 8th November, which brings together patients, healthcare professionals, supporters, and advocates in their plight for access to medical cannabis on prescription through the NHS.

Since I serve in the UK's legal cannabis industry (my service extends to over-the-counter hemp extracts containing CBD and other minor cannabinoids), many thoughts sprung to mind. According to the UN's International Narcotics Control Board report, the UK is currently the largest producer and exporter of medical cannabis and cannabis used for research applications. Considering this, surely access would not be a problem, and neither would training, especially with several countries such as Canada, Israel and the US, having tried and tested models for successful legalisation of medical cannabis, which give unparalleled access compared to the UK.

The successes of medical and recreational cannabis legalisations in several US states were discussed at a roundtable for the London Cannabis Study at the end of September. The study would trial pilot legalisation of recreational cannabis in London, which with any luck, could be put into action as early as next year. With some models in operation for well over a decade, such as in California, which legalised medical cannabis in 1996, we already have sufficient data, structures and processes that could be similarly implemented in the UK. Pilot legalisation in London could follow a similar format to Züri Can - Cannabis With Responsibility, a 3.5-year research pilot of recreational legalisation in Zurich due to commence in August 2022. The latest press release states that "The study creates framework conditions that promote the responsible use of cannabis at all levels – production, prevention and consumption."

I have seen several patient groups and patients themselves sharing personal, profoundly challenging, and painful stories related to their health and lack of quality of life in a plight to access medical cannabis safely. Just last week, constituents of several counties who have been consulting their MPs for the past two years were back in the loop – attending parliament to make their voices heard for a few hours in the hope they carry enough weight to sway current stale, draconian laws. The frustration following the so-called hype to demand access and better regulation fades away, and their fight becomes last week's background noise. While medical access has been available since 2018, with so few prescriptions being given on the NHS and for such a limited number of conditions, access is primarily through the private sector, where the average appointment and prescription spend per month hovers around £2,000. This cost isn't an option for so many and must be even more distressing, piled on to the effects of lockdowns and a lack of a growing economy. Undoubtedly, the UK being a mass producer of medical-grade cannabis should bring the cost down, if anything, since it is an export commodity. It should be made available to its citizens first and foremost at a fraction of the cost, and it should not be so far out of reach considering the difficulties in importing cannabis-based medicines.

If the above proves too complex, time-consuming, and lacking in resources, wouldn't the next logical step be to offer patients the opportunity to grow their own medicine? I cannot help but feel that the UK has been left in the dark ages regarding regulation, consistency, education/destigmatisation, and acceptance. We have countries around the globe adopting policies to allow their citizens a human right to grow their own medicine. The process of growing cannabis would enable many patients to learn a new skill and shift their focus away from their illness. For many, this could be a life-changing calling or even a potential career path should pilot programmes such as the London Cannabis Study successfully create new production jobs in the sector. Taking back control and responsibility is key to ones healing. Of course, not every patient would be fit or capable enough to grow, which is why nominating someone to grow on your behalf has proved successful in several US states where both patients and caregivers can grow for medical use.
November 15, 2021 — Lisa-Marie Marais