Medical cannabis patients forced into the illicit drug market

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CANNABIS-BASED drugs, including whole plant cannabis flower and oil, are life-changing drugs for many. They have been available on prescription in the UK since 2018, but the lack of a framework to access them on the NHS remains a constant obstacle for around a million people who would be eligible for legal cannabis.

In 2019, the Project Twenty21 (T21) subsidized medical cannabis program was launched with plans to enroll up to 20,000 disabled and chronically ill citizens who cannot afford the cost of a private prescription. For the most serious ailments – like that of Murray Gray, an eight-year-old Edinburgh resident, who suffers from severe epilepsy – private costs can run into the thousands of pounds each month.

Followed by the UK’s leading independent drug science body, Drug Science, the aim of the project was not only to deliver a solution to low-income patients, but also to create the UK’s largest body of evidence. United to demonstrate the efficacy and tolerability of cannabis drugs.

However, the devastating news of a skyrocketing price hike set to take effect on February 1 – which for some products represents an increase of more than 130% – has shattered the hopes and health of patients enrolled in the program. According to a survey conducted for T21 patients by the medicinal cannabis advocacy group PLEA, 95% of those polled said the change in the pricing structure would have a significant impact on their lives, with most saying they should withdraw from the drug. project.

READ MORE: Calls to Westminster for greater availability of medical cannabis

As a result, many legal medical cannabis patients (of which there are now over 3,000 in Scotland) are turning to the illegal drug market, where they claim to be able to find cannabis that is both cheaper and easier to obtain, although of questionable quality. Others who try to avoid criminal activity find themselves in a position of having to choose between paying bills or essential drugs, selling family homes, and even turning to sex work.

Gillian Flood (below), from Glasgow, has been prescribed medicinal cannabis oil and flowers since April 2020 for fibromyalgia and post-traumatic stress disorder. Before cannabis, she tried the drugs Gabapentin and Pregabalin, antidepressants and an antipsychotic.

Gillian Flood has been prescribed medical cannabis since 2020

The mother of six said: ‘I couldn’t get medical cannabis on the NHS and the private dispensing fees were too high for me to afford. When I discovered Project Twenty21, it gave me hope. Other drugs

I had been over made me feel emotionally and physically numb. My head was so foggy and I couldn’t take care of my children. Despite all the prescription pills I took, I was still in agony. Every day was unbearable.

“Since I discovered cannabis, I feel happy to be here. The longer I use cannabis, the better. Within minutes of using cannabis, my muscles relax, my nausea subsides, and I feel almost instant relief. I am without a doubt a better mother to my children with cannabis in my life.

But now, with a 40% price hike and no access to cannabis on the NHS, Flood must choose between drugs and food, or engage in criminal activity. “I have no choice but to break the law or live in constant pain,” she says.

The National:

Kayleigh Ross (above), 28, from the Shetland Islands, was the first person in Scotland to sign up for the Twenty21 project. She is a mother of five and has a cannabis prescription for Ehlers Danlos FND Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder, Gastroparesis, and Autism Spectrum Disorders.

“Cannabis has allowed me to quit opioids and be the mom that I never could be,” she said. “Meeting the cost of my private prescription was already a struggle, but now it has dropped from £ 799 to £ 1,540. I cannot continue the treatment. This price increase and lack of access to the NHS are pushing vulnerable disabled families to break the law. ”

Scotland’s only registered medical cannabis clinic for improved healthcare in Scotland, Sapphire Medical Clinics, offers a subsidized access program, with 1,000 Scottish patients already enrolled. This was extended in December after reaching capacity, once again indicating the demand for affordable medical cannabis in Scotland.

The news comes at a time when the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has announced a pilot “diversion program” whereby people between the ages of 18 and 24 found in possession of small amounts of cannabis will either be sent on the way, be directed towards some form of counseling rather than being charged. with a crime.

READ MORE: Scottish cops call on Scotland to embrace US-style regulated cannabis market

While drug policy is not the province of Holyrood, health care and law enforcement are. And with such a pressing need to save patients from criminal records, surely we could do it in Scotland? Not just for young recreational users, but for cannabis patients who need their medications to survive.

In Scotland, the drug-related death capital of Europe, there have been moves towards developing health-oriented drug policies. But, given that many Scottish police officials are still unaware of programs like Cancard – a program that shows people use cannabis for medical reasons – it is nowhere near enough for patients. who now live in fear of being prosecuted for the crime of not being able to pay for their drugs.

Ronnie Cowan (below), SNP MP for Inverclyde and deputy chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Drug Policy Reform, said: “For years different divisions of the police have been proceeding. in different ways – some tolerant, some intolerant.

The National: Ronnie Cowan, Deputy Chair of the Parliamentary Groups on Drug Policy Reform and Prescription Medical Cannabis

“But,” the Lord Advocate recently said, “we should be pushing to decriminalize personal possession. This is a clear signal to the Police Force that all Scottish Police should not arrest people for personal possession, which then opens a series of conversations – if not arrest for possession, should we arrest for use ? Because that is clearly what possession is for. Next, we have to ask ourselves why is cannabis illegal?

He continues: “What they’re doing in the Twenty21 project is admirable, but it’s private medicine. It should not be the responsibility of T21 to manage the program, it should be funded by the UK government and made available appropriately on the NHS. ”

Ant Lehane, communications officer for rights organization Volteface, is co-author of the report Sadiq Khan is using to roll out London’s diversion program. He explains: “It is possible for the Lord Advocate and the SNP government to push powers to the limit and immediately expand the diversion programs already in place.”

Without independence, Scotland does not have the power to break free from Westminster’s 50-year-old drug abuse law. However, our Prime Minister could opt for a de facto decriminalization of cannabis, removing all criminal penalties and fines for possession of small amounts of cannabis.

READ MORE: People ‘Denied Access’ to Medicinal Cannabis Three Years After Law Change

With this simple change, we could come one step closer to the progressive legalization of cannabis demonstrated in Malta, Germany, Luxembourg and other EU countries that most Scottish voters have not chosen to part ways with. And we could stop penalizing patients, sparing them the injustice and hardship of having their legal supply of medical cannabis made unaffordable.

Indeed, Holyrood could go further and consider funding its own version of Project Twenty21, saving Scottish cannabis patients from addiction to a very unreliable black market. Or set up a task force to assess options for expanding access to the NHS.

As stated in the Public Health Act 2008 and the Adult Support and Protection Act 2007, Scottish ministers are to ‘promote better health for the people of Scotland’ and ‘consider the importance of advocacy “.

We have a duty to protect medical cannabis patients who will now suffer more than ever without a long overdue reform. Surely it is high time for Scotland to step up and take a stand to protect the lives of our most vulnerable citizens?


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