The movement for marijuana legalization in Great Britain might be picking up momentum, as the UK Parliament will debate a limited legalization bill on Feb. 23 on the future of marijuana legalization.
Among western European nations, the UK parliament is perhaps most strident in its view that cannabis is a dangerous drug whose users should be treated like criminals.
Throughout most of Europe, sick people can access marijuana grown in controlled conditions under the authority of their governments. In Italy, for example, medical marijuana is grown in an army lab and even oft-conservative Germany legalized medical marijuana a year ago.
But in England, authorities are following the lead of the American federal government and insisting that marijuana is harmful. While penalties are far less harsh than in the United States, cannabis remains under the control of the UK’s Home Office — the arm of the government that includes antiterrorism efforts, the prison system and domestic surveillance — and consuming the plant remains illegal.
However, following the plight of Alfie Dingley, a six-year-old epileptic whose family was forced to relocate to the Netherlands to give him cannabis oil, even lawmakers from the UK’s leading Conservative Party are asking authorities in Prime Minister Theresa May’s government to relent.
A bill that would allow limited legalization of marijuana for strictly medical purposes will be read for the second time in Parliament this week, setting up for a legislative debate on the validity of medical marijuana. But here’s an unfortunate wrinkle: Without official support from Prime Minister May and her cabinet ministers, few bills can hope to become law in the UK.
And so, it appears that medical marijuana in the UK has as much chance of becoming law as the many cannabis-friendly bills in the U.S. Congress, which, year-after-year, die for want of a committee hearing.
It’s a “barbaric position,” according to Paul Flynn, the Labour MP from Wales who introduced the bill in Parliament.
Parents of epileptic children like Alfie have had to watch their children turn blue or flee the UK for kinder climes overseas, for no other reason than the “blind stupidity of the government,” Flynn added in an impassioned video posted to his Facebook. “Cannabis is a useful medicine, the oldest medicine in the world. And there’s no denying its use.”
It’s an ironic situation, as the British bear responsibility for introducing cannabis into the western pharmacopoeia. It was William O’Shaughnessy, an Irish doctor in the service of the British East India Company, who studied the medicinal application of cannabis and published one of the very first papers in medical literature documenting its value while working in Calcutta. And, as Flynn pointed out on the floor of the House of Commons when he first introduced the bill last October, Queen Victoria is said to have used cannabis to relieve her menstrual cramps.
Cannabis is classified as a “Class B” drug in the UK, the second-most punitive category. Cannabis was very briefly moved into Class C, from 2004 until 2008, until hysteria over “super-potent” cannabis, dubbed “skunk” in the UK, convinced authorities to put the drug back in Class B.
Thus far, both the major political parties in UK parliament have proven unwilling to move much on marijuana. It was the “left-wing” Labour Party that saw the drug reclassified a decade ago, and May, the Conservative PM, last year suggested that cannabis use leads to heroin — and suicide.
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