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UK Physicians Call for Legalization
of Marijuana

MEDICAL MARIJUANA

Summer 1999

In June, prominent physicians from the British Medical Association's (BMA) Scottish Regional Health Committee urged legalizing marijuana for medical and recreational purposes (Gillian Harris, "Doctors Call For Legalised Cannabis," The Times (UK), June 21, 1999; Daily Telegraph (UK), "Doctors Push For Legal Use Of Cannabis," June 21, 1999; Tim Winkler, "Doctors Back Legalising Cannabis," Scotsman (UK), June 21, 1999; Jeremy Laurance, "Doctors Urge Legalising of Cannabis," The Independent (UK), June 22, 1999).

George Venters, M.D., the committee chairman, argued that there was no evidence that cannabis was addictive and said, "I think more than half the population would support legislation if you laid out the evidence." The doctors contend the illegal status of marijuana encourages people to categorize the drug with heroin and cocaine, which in turn leads to the assumption that taking hard drugs is no more damaging than smoking marijuana. Venters asserted, "There is much more damage done by smoking [cigarettes] and alcohol than by cannabis. That is the issue." Dr. Brian Potter, Scottish secretary of the BMA, said, "What [the committee] is trying to say is that there are other dangerous drugs which are legalised and cause a lot more deaths. Certainly in Scotland, 35 people a day die from tobacco use. Maybe we should be focusing on that rather than putting our energies on cannabis."

Anti-drug agencies rejected the group's call to action, claiming decriminalization would lead young people to experiment with harder drugs. The director of Scotland Against Drugs, Alistair Ramsey, said that the legal status of cannabis was investigated last year by a select committee from the House of Lords and no reason was found to decriminalize or legalize the drug.

The BMA's Scottish committee submitted a motion to the BMA to support legalizing cannabis for medicinal purposes. However, the motion was narrowly rejected by representatives at the annual BMA conference in Belfast in early July. BMA representatives also rejected, by a large majority, a motion supporting decriminalization of marijuana for recreational use ("BMA Rejects Legalisation of Cannabis," BBC News, July 7, 1999).

Dr. Stephen Kisely, who proposed the medical marijuana motion, said: "The legal effects of cannabis are far worse than the medical and psychological effects. People who are prosecuted for possession of cannabis may have their livelihoods destroyed for the use of a compound which has less adverse consequences than alcohol and tobacco. The BMA should stand up and act to help its patients. Making them criminals does not help them."

Last year, the UK authorized the first medical trials of cannabis to begin in October 1999. GW Pharmaceuticals was granted permission to grow cannabis and administer it in clinical trials (see NewsBriefs, July-August 1998, p. 26). A greenhouse was constructed at an undisclosed site to produce a crop of potent sinsemilla plants to be used in trials at Hammersmith Hospital in West London and Derriford Hospital in Plymouth. Nine hundred patients will receive cannabis treatment between the two sites. Successful trials could pave the way for the adoption of a prescription system for medicinal marijuana.

George Venters, M.D. - 14 Beckford St., Hamilton, Lanarkshire, Scotland ML3 OTA, Tel: (011) (44) (169) 820-6328, Fax: (011) (44) (169) 842-4136, E-mail: <gventers@compuserve.com>.

Dr. Stephen Kisely - 7 Spring Muse, Dark Lane, Whittle Springs, Chorley PR68AS ENGLAND.

Alistair Ramsey - Scotland Against Drugs, 120 Bath Street, Glasgow, G2 2EN, Scotland, UK, Tel:( 011) (44) (141) 331-6150, Fax: (011) (44) (141) 331-6151, E-mail: <alistair@sad.org.uk>, Web: <www.sad.org.uk>.

GW Pharmaceuticals - Communications handled by Hill, Murray, Rogerson, Ltd., 12-18 Grosvenor Gardens, London SW1WODH England, Tel: (011) (44) (171) 730-3999.