Government rejects calls to legalise cannabis but announces review which could allow medical use

Kate McCann
The Home Secretary - REUTERS

The head of the NHS and the Home Secretary have both rejected calls to legalise cannabis, warning doing so would "introduce new risks for young people".

Simon Stevens and Sajid Javid slapped down calls made by former Conservative leader Lord Hague to look again at the law as the Home Office announced a review of cannabis for medicinal use. 

But it came as a group of Tory MPs, campaigners and academics publicly called for a Royal commission to consider legalising the drug amid claims banning it had led to stronger, more damaging forms of the drug. 

Earlier in the week ministers gave ground after the mother of 12 year-old Billy Caldwell pleaded for him to be allowed to use cannabis oil to help with his epilepsy. 

Yesterday the Home Secretary announced ministers will look at whether to allow prescriptions of medicinal cannabis more broadly, with the results expected within weeks. 

Charlotte Caldwell and her son Billy Credit: Reuters

But he said the Government will not legalise the drug under any circumstances, despite calls from some Tory MPs to do so. 

Mr Javid said: "If the review identifies significant medical benefits, then we do intend to reschedule.

"We have seen in recent months that there is a pressing need to allow those who might benefit from cannabis-based medicines to access them."

He added that since becoming Home Secretary in April, it had become clear to him that the current legal position on medicinal cannabis was "not satisfactory for the parents, not satisfactory for the doctors, and not satisfactory for me".

But he insisted: "This step is in no way a first step to the legalisation of cannabis for recreational use. "This Government has absolutely no plans to legalise cannabis and the penalties for unauthorised supply and possession will remain unchanged."

A cannabis plant Credit: PA

Earlier in the day Theresa May's spokesman confirmed she had not smoked the drug before, while quotes from foreign secretary Boris Johnson came to light, showing that he had.

Writing in this newspaper Lord Hague said yesterday that the war on cannabis is over and it is "deluded" to think it can be banned altogether from British streets.

But despite support from former Labour leader Ed Miliband and campaigners including the Adam Smith Institute, ministers rejected his call for Theresa May to consider making it legal. 

In an open letter MPs including former deputy Tory leader Peter Lilley, Michael Fabricant, Crispin Blunt and Dan Kawczynski all called for a Royal commission to consider legalising the drug. 

The letter was also signed by former chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs Professor David Nutt, who was sacked by ex Labour Home Secretary Alan Johnson for warning the drug is not as dangerous as ministers made out. 

Simon Stevens Credit: Geoff Pugh

Speaking to the Telegraph Professor Nutt said it was a "great pity" that Lord Hague hadn't spoken out in favour of legalisation when he was Tory leader. 

He added: "The law has been destructive to health, keeping cannabis illegal has created more harm because the illegality has led to the rise of skunk and that's really the only form of the drug you can get in Britain at the moment. 

"Politicians have been lying to us for 50 years about this drug, getting them to admit that is very uncomfortable."

But Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, warned legalising cannabis would "introduce new risks for our young people". 

He added: "There are clearly very strong reasons why a expert clinical review of the circumstances under which cannabis-derived compounds should be prescribed by doctors for some medical conditions.

"I think it's very important as a country that we don't confuse this debate around specifically prescribable products for certain medical conditions, with a much more generalised debate around the decriminalisation or legalisation of marijuana, without at the same time reminding ourselves that there are some genuine health risks there.

"In those countries where marijuana has been decriminalised, often young people, teenagers, come to think of smoking marijuana as safe. "Let's be clear: actually it isn't."

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