Published: 22/06/2018 07:00 - Updated: 21/06/2018 14:03

'Legalise cannabis' says drugs charity boss

Written byIain Ramage


Richard Burkitt
Rev Richard Burkitt.

MEDICAL use of cannabis should be legalised, according to an Inverness charity chief in the front line.

Rev Richard Birkett, who runs the Merkinch-based anti-addiction charity For the Right Reasons, is reluctant to have it decriminalised for general use, but he and senior Highland politicians back its use for medical purposes.

The fresh debate was triggered by the case of 12-year-old epilepsy victim Billy Caldwell from Northern Ireland.

He made national headlines after cannabis oil being used to treat his condition was confiscated by officials at Heathrow Airport as his mother attempted to bring it into the UK from Canada.

The Home Office returned some of it after she protested and medics gave an assurance that the treatment was necessary and former Tory leader Lord Hague said the episode "provides one of those illuminating moments when a longstanding policy is revealed to be inappropriate, ineffective and utterly out of date".

Agreeing with him, Rev Birkett said: "Reluctantly, because we’ve lost the battle, it might be easier to make cannabis legal – to start with for medical purposes but that will, of course, free it up.

"If it’s freed up for medical reasons it’s bound to make it more accessible generally and that’s a worry. But I think we should certainly legalise it for medical reasons."

SNP MP Drew Hendry and Green MSP John Finnie – a former policeman – also added their support to that call.

Mr Hendry said: "For me this isn’t about legalising cannabis for recreational use – that’s a debate for another day.

"This is about the countless constituents who’ve pleaded with me to support the legalisation of medical cannabis to soothe the debilitating chronic pain they endure day in, day out."

The Greens believe "criminalisation of drug use creates more harm than managed and regulated supplies".

Mr Finnie said: "The treatment of patients should be the exclusive responsibility of doctors, not politicians.

"Whilst opiates can rightly be used in medical treatment, the recognised therapeutic value of cannabis for conditions such as MS and epilepsy has not been harnessed.

"Hopefully, this is the start of an evidence-based debate where medical practitioners’ views are listened to and patients have access to the full range of treatments that can help their condition."

There has been widespread debate about the potential harmful effects of cannabis use and whether the class C drug acts as a "gateway" to other illegal substances.

A UK government panel is now to review the use of medicinal cannabis but not legalisation or decriminalisation of the drug for recreational use, something Prime Minister Theresa May has ruled out "because of the impact on people’s lives".

A Police Scotland spokesman said: "With regards to the current media coverage linked to the debate around the legalisation of cannabis, Police Scotland has no comment to make beyond re-iterating that the current legislation under the terms of the Misuse of Drugs Act is clear."

No comment was available from NHS Highland regarding its position on a review of cannabis for medicinal use.

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