Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature War on Drugs

Cannabis, cannabis everywhere: UK to review medical cannabis policy as Canada plans imminent legalisation for all uses

BMJ 2018; 361 doi: (Published 19 June 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;361:k2695


Cannabis as medicine


Medical cannabis: it is time to provide legal access, the UK must not get left behind

  1. Richard Hurley, features editor, The BMJ
  1. rhurley{at}

As the UK government weathers sustained criticism for denying the drug to sick children, Portugal legalises medical cannabis, and all eyes are on Canada, set to become the first major economy to allow non-medical use of the plant. Richard Hurley reports

Last weekend Sajid Javid, the home secretary, gave into sustained media and political pressure and used “exceptional powers” to temporarily permit the return of confiscated cannabis oil to the mother of a sick 12 year old boy.

On Tuesday he announced an urgent review of the scheduling of cannabis to be led by chief medical officer Sally Davis, although he was clear that it was not a first step to legalising recreational use.

Billy Caldwell, who has autism and epilepsy, had as many as 100 seizures a day until he was prescribed cannabis oil by a doctor in the US in 2016. His mother, Charlotte Caldwell, said that it had kept Billy seizure-free for 250 days.

But possession and supply of this cannabis oil are crimes under the UK Misuse of Drugs Act. The Home Office had previously told Billy’s local GP to cease prescribing the drug. A few days after his imported Canadian oil was confiscated, Billy had seizures and was admitted to hospital in London.

Newspaper front pages and editorials, the public, and MPs seemed unanimous in their dismay at the irrationality of a drug policy that could have such unintended, harmful, and distressing consequences. Although UK doctors cannot prescribe cannabis, it is widely available illegally.1

“This is a very complex situation, but our immediate priority is making sure Billy receives the most effective treatment possible in a safe way,” Javid said in a Home Office tweet on Saturday.

“We’ve been in close contact with Billy’s medical team overnight and my decision is based on the …

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