Kind of in the shade of Canada’s full legalization of cannabis for any purpose on October 17- cannabis for medical use only has become legal in the U.K. as of the 1st of November 2018. Under the long-lasting pressure of campaigners, politicians and the well-known British media, Conservative Secretary of State for the Home Office, Sajid Javid announced early this summer- the legalization of ‘cannabis for medical purposes’ for the entire United Kingdom. It was breathtaking to see this groundbreaking event happening over the course of only 4 months.
It must have been somewhere back in 2009 when I started receiving e-mails from the UK. Among them a London based MS patient, crying for help to relief her debilitating MS symptoms along with a long-term medicinal cannabis campaigner – Peter Reynolds from CLEAR (cannabis law reform) UK. In all of my dealings with patients, activist groups and even government officials around the world – I never felt anything similar to the feelings of despair and anger that crawled up to me during these communications.
The MS patient (let’s call her Judy for this occasion) asked the obvious question: “Can you ship some of your products to my home address in London.” And as so many times before I had to answer in the negative, due to the legislative and regulatory constraints that we’re working under in Europe. And don’t get me wrong, I like these regulations and constraints, as they do provide the right ‘protective umbrella’ for patients and their prescribers. To make a long story short: she eventually decided to literally move to The Netherlands in order to get her medicinal cannabis prescribed and (later on) even reimbursed. (In the US, I understand that you would call Judy a medical refugee).
More UK patients followed her example, although not moving into The Netherlands for good. They just hopped from London to Amsterdam by plane (only a 45-minute flight) to get a prescription and pick up the prescribed products from a local pharmacy. Some of them even provoking custom officers when returning back home with their legally (in The Netherlands) prescribed cannabis. They took their vials filled with Bedrocan from their luggage, asking the officer to allow them to bring these products into the country. Nobody got arrested that way and some of the officers even just turned their back to those patients while saying: “Please move on sir.”
A quite surprising thing in all of this is that the UK is home to the by far oldest producer of a cannabis-based medicine – GW Pharma. Only shortly after Prop. 215 came into effect in California in 1995, GW Pharma was established in the UK, using The Netherlands as their source of cannabis genetics on the basis of which now well-known products such as Sativex and Epidiolex have been developed as true medicines.
And Judy? She’s still living in The Netherlands. Her MS symptoms have sadly worsened over time. She is now living in a nursing home for sick and elderly people. Still using cannabis, but not planning on going back to the UK. Ever.