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Necessity or nastiness? The hidden law denying cannabis for medicinal use

The last government had a peculiarly Stalinist approach to public wellbeing. It created over 1200 new laws, a record number for any government , many of which reflect a naïve belief that these would change public behaviour. Some were clearly stupid; thinking that drinkers would be deterred from behaving badly when drunk for fear of legal sanctions misses the point that many people get drunk deliberately to lose the inhibitions that such sanctions bring!

professor david nutt cannabisPerhaps the most pernicious principle of law was the one declared  in 2005 by way of a decision of the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division)  which did not, prior to the hearing, make it into the public arena for discussion, nor was the reasoning the product of debates in Parliament.  The effect of this decision is to  deny the defence of necessity to those growing or possessing cannabis to treat medical conditions for which other treatments were ineffective.   In the words of the Court, “its role [of the defence] cannot be to legitimise conduct contrary to the clear legislative policy and scheme”.  The consequence was that ill people for whom cannabis might be the sole means to relieve suffering are no longer able to plead that this was the reason they had the drug if they get arrested.

Surprisingly many do get arrested sometimes in very aggressive ways.  Just last week I received an email detailing how a middle aged ex teacher with multiple sclerosis has had her front door broken down by the police in dawn raids on three occasions over the last six years to combat her use of cannabis for medicinal purposes.  I presume everyone, except perhaps the police involved, would agree this is inhumane, a travesty of justice, and a complete waste of public money. There are regular court cases in which this defence is denied and so individuals are obliged to plead guilty to possession of what is now a Class B drug which carries a sentence of up to 5 years’ in prison, or up to 14 years if the court decides intent to supply (dealing) was present. Such judgments  are devastating to the patient and their families but also quite distasteful to those charged with enacting the penalties. I have spoken with many magistrates and a significant proportion express privately their extreme dislike of being forced to criminalise such users of cannabis.

Read the full article at Professor David Nutt’s blog