The UK Government is Being Petitioned to Hold a Referendum on Cannabis
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The UK Government is Being Petitioned to Hold a Referendum on Cannabis

The UK government is being petitioned to hold a referendum on the decriminalisation of the drug cannabis. This has implications for people with diseases that may be helped by using medical marijuana. The petition can be found here.

So far about 12,000 people have signed the petition. It argues that the long-running debate over cannabis legalisation, coupled with a recent emphasis on referendums by the Conservative government (referring to the public votes on remaining in the E.U. and the Scottish referendum) mean that the issue of cannabis decriminalisation should also be put to a public vote. The petition implies that this would be the democratic way to settle the debate. If it were put to a vote, this would follow recent moves by several other authorities worldwide to relax the laws on cannabis, including Alaska, Jamaica, and many US states.

One argument for changing the laws around cannabis is to allow access to the drug for medical reasons. In England and Wales cannabis possession and use for any reason, including medical, is illegal. However, a cannabis-based product called Sativex has been exempted from this law. It can now be legally used to treat conditions such as the muscle spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis. People bringing cannabis into the UK for personal medical use are also permitted to do so if they have a certificate. However, the drug is still not widely available.

There is some evidence that cannabis might help with some symptoms of diseases such as cancer and multiple sclerosis (MS), including chronic pain, nausea from chemotherapy, and muscle spasticity. There have also been claims that the drug may help to control seizures in children with severe forms of epilepsy such as Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome, but the evidence for this is mixed. Research into the effectiveness of marijuana-based medicines for treating various diseases is still ongoing.

However, this petition applies to all cannabis use and does not differentiate between recreational and medicinal uses of the drug.

The government has responded to the petition to make its position clear. They wrote that they have no plans to legalise cannabis and that it remains a class B drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. The response states that there is a large body of scientific evidence that shows that cannabis can lead to serious physical and mental health problems, and can damage the wider community. The reply states, “The legalisation of cannabis would send the wrong message to the vast majority of people who do not take drugs, especially young and vulnerable people.” They also claim that it would not decrease criminal activity associated with selling drugs or help people who are suffering from drug addiction.
The government response also linked to a report on cannabis by an independent advisory committee, which concluded that the drug can “unquestionably cause harm”. The report can be found here.
If the petition reaches 100,000 signatures it will be considered for debate in parliament. The deadline for reaching this number is 12th September 2018.

Anna Hewitt

Anna is from England and recently finished her undergraduate degree. She has an interest in medicine and enjoys writing. In her spare time she likes to cook, hike, and hang out with cats.