By the Select Committee appointed to consider
Science and Technology
CANNABIS: GOVERNMENT RESPONSE
In November 1998 we reported on Cannabis: the
Scientific and Medical Evidence (9th Report 1997-98, HL Paper
151). We recommended that, though cannabis should remain a controlled
drug, the law should be changed to allow doctors to prescribe
an appropriate preparation of cannabis if they saw fit.
The Government rejected this recommendation
on the day of publication. This was a departure from the usual
convention, as the Government concede. They put their case when
the House of Lords debated our report on 3 December (Hansard
col. 703). They have now made a formal written response to our
report, which is printed here as Appendix 2.
In reporting the Government's response for the
information of the House, we would observe that its main arguments
against our recommendations are ones which we considered in the
course of our inquiry. We continue to find them unpersuasive.
The Government argue that prohibition protects
patients from taking substances of unproven efficacy, quality
and safety. We found enough evidence, albeit largely anecdotal,
to convince us that cannabis is efficacious, especially against
the symptoms of MS and in the control of pain. The evidence is
set out in Chapter 5 of our original report. Significant numbers
of sufferers are taking cannabis at present, in defiance of the
law and without medical supervision or quality control; our recommendation
would enable the health professions and the pharmaceutical industry
to collaborate to provide appropriate preparations.
As for safety, cannabis is well known to be
safe in terms of acute toxicity. Nonetheless using it does involve
risks, discussed in Chapter 4 of our report, from which people
currently using it for medical purposes are unprotected. We recommended
that the medical professional bodies should provide guidance on
responsible prescribing, to protect at-risk groups and to take
account of the dangers of intoxication and addiction.
Secondly, the Government argue that permitting
prescription now would reduce the momentum of research. On the
contrary, we found evidence, set out in Chapter 7, that research
has been held back by the stigma and bureaucracy associated with
the status of cannabis as an illegal drug.
Finally, the Government question the capability
of doctors to deal with patients demanding cannabis for improper
purposes. In our report, we expressed more confidence in the medical
profession and its regulatory bodies (paragraph 8.14) than the
Government appear to feel; and we recommended special safeguards
against diversion (paragraph 8.17). We would observe in addition
that cannabis is well known to be readily available to the non-therapeutic
user, by means far easier than deceiving a GP.
In conclusion, we regret that the mind of the
Government appears to be closed on this issue, and hope that the
results of new research now under way may cause them to revisit
our recommendations at an early date.