Medical use around the world

The trend around the world has increasingly been to permit the medicinal use of cannabis, which is not prohibited by international drug control treaties.

Successful large scale clinical trials have been carried out in the UK, prescribed government approved cannabis is available in countires such as Canada, Britain, and Holland while cannabis as medicine is approved at State level in the USA, but sometimes cracked down on by federal goverment.

In Canada the government contracted a Manitoba firm, Prairie Plant Systems, to grow standardised cannabis to be made available on prescription. However patients groups harshly criticised the quality of the cannabis and a court ruled that independent businesses should also be allowed to grow and distribute cannabis to patients. This follows rulings in Ontario and Alberta that cannabis prohibition laws are unconstitutional and would be stuck down unless the government allowed the medical use of cannabis. Prior to the release of the government pot, the Minister of Health issued permits to patients allowing them to grow their own cannabis until the official prescription supply was ready.

The UK Government has licensed GW Pharmaceuticals to breed cannabis strains to treat specific illnesses. The company conducted many clinical trials of different strains of cannabis intended for different conditions such as MS and epilepsy. More details of the UK trials. The UK Police have stopped prosecuting patients using cannabis as medicine for fear of breaching the Human Rights Act.

The New South Wales government have announced a four year trial medical cannabis program, expected to be approved and begin by the end of 2003. The program will allow those suffering cancer, Aids, multiple sclerosis and other serious illnesses to register to use marijuana for pain relief. The decision followed on from the NSW ‘Working Party on the Use of Cannabis for Medicinal Purposes’ report which recommended a “compassionate regime” whereby patients would be allowed to grow their own cannabis until the government can begin prescribing it.

In the United States, over half the states have passed laws allowing the medical use of cannabis. Many states now have “compassion clubs” – small non-profit clubs that supply medical-grade cannabis to patients with a written recommendation from their doctor. Despite the state laws the Federal government have continued to bust patients clubs and growers and distributors, such as Ed Rosenthal. In a recent case the US Supreme Court ruled that the federal government cannot punish doctors for recommending or perhaps even talking about the benefits of the drug to sick patients.

The New Zealand Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 imposes a blanket ban on the use of cannabis. The Minister of Health has the power under section 14 of the MDA to issue licences permitting medicinal cannabis use, but none have so far been granted. The continuing illegality of medicinal cannabis is based more on political than scientific considerations.