Explaining the new cannabis bill

charles blogBy Charles Willis, Head of Public Affairs for RPS

You may have noticed over the past few weeks that the Liberal Democrats are returning to an issue close to many of their hearts; reforming the drug laws. This week in Parliament, Norman Lamb brought a 10 minute rule bill seeking to legalise and regulate cannabis in the UK. But how did we get here?

Going into the 2015 General Election, Nick Clegg committed the Party to decriminalisation for possession of drugs for personal use, and Norman Lamb made drug reform part of his Party leadership bid. However, the key precursor to this Bill was set at the recent Lib Dem Spring Conference, where the members debated a motion that would for the first time commit the Party to full legalisation and regulation.

The motion was debated for an hour in a packed main hall, with a large number wished to speak in favour of the motion, giving personal stories of relief from disabling conditions and children killed through interaction with the illegal drug trade, as well as making a financial case for the motion. Only one person spoke against, with an emotional appeal based upon their experiences of people using the drug in Kenya. Lamb accepted amendments that highlighted the danger of the drug, and the need to accompany it with public health messages highlighting the danger and preventing long term psychological damage. Around 90% of those in attendance voted in favour of his motion.

This is the background to Norman Lamb’s motion in the House on Wednesday. As the name suggests, there is 10 minutes allocated for this motion, 5 minutes each for a speaker in favour and a speaker against. Norman Lamb highlighted the conclusions of an independent report commissioned by the Liberal Democrats, claiming the war on drugs had failed and that a new approach was needed. No one spoke against the Bill or indicated dissent, so it has passed to its second reading on Friday April 22nd.

Due to the short time remaining in the Parliamentary year, there is no chance of this Bill becoming law but this motion aims to gain publicity for the issue with the wider public.

The report that acts as the basis for the Liberal Democrat policy supports the immediate rescheduling of cannabis to a schedule 2 substance, endorsing the ‘End Our Pain’ campaign, allowing doctors to prescribe cannabis where they consider it would help their patients and for this to be honoured by pharmacies. However, the debate also focused on the retail of recreational cannabis, where pharmacies are considered to be an outlet option. There is some concern that dispensing cannabis for non-medical use may be considered by pharmacists to be in conflict with their duty of medical care.

The Liberal Democrats have indicated that they will seek to engage with professional bodies and retailers to explore viable options, and we would be interested to hear your views on any aspect of this issue – please email james.dunlop@rpharms.com with your thoughts or any questions.

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