Select Committee on Science and Technology Second Report


4TH MARCH 1999

  By the Select Committee appointed to consider Science and Technology



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.

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