It looks as if 2018 will go down as a landmark year in cannabis regulation. Following what was the opening of the biggest legal weed market in the world in California, and coming just a couple of months before Canada begins its nationwide legal marijuana program, the United Kingdom has announced that it will reschedule some cannabis-derived medicines, making them legal to use for qualifying patients.
The new regulation is an interesting counterpoint to laws in the United States. Though a rescheduling of cannabis is a benchmark not yet reached in America, legal medical marijuana will still likely be less accessible to Brits than it is to many Americans.
As reported by the BBC, the historic announcement came this week from Home Secretary Sajid Javid. He announced that certain cannabis-derived products will be redesignated from a Schedule 1 controlled substance (a list of substances which officially have no medical use) to Schedule 2 (a list of substances which are still highly regulated, but which can be prescribed by doctors).
The decision came after the families of several UK children with severe forms of epilepsy made headlines in their fight to allow medical marijuana treatment. As a stopgap measure, certain patients in “exceptional circumstances” have been allowed petition a special Home Office Expert Panel to be permitted to use forms of cannabis as medicine. The new legislation would make the legal use of MMJ a much simpler matter, similar to obtaining a prescription for any other pharmaceutical.
What is not so simple is exactly what cannabis-derived medicines will be allowed under the new legal standard. According to the BBC, “The Department for Health and Social Care and the Medicines and Health products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) will now develop a clear definition of what constitutes a cannabis-derived medicinal product so they can be rescheduled and prescribed.”
The new regulation will not affect all of the United Kingdom, at least not right away. Because of the tricky relationship between the British government and Northern Ireland, further legislation would be required to have the same medical marijuana allowances in the province.
The announcement has been met with a mix of excitement and reservation, even among medical cannabis advocates. Former justice minister and vocal MMJ proponent Sir Mike Penning expressed his misgivings about the legislature, saying, “Any move to restrict medical cannabis in the UK to a very narrow range of derived products, each requiring full pharmaceutical trials, thereby blocking out the many products available overseas, will lead to great disappointment and be a missed opportunity.”