Doctors will be able to prescribe cannabis products to patients in the UK from today, and Crispin Blunt MP has said the UK can now weigh up the 'costs and benefits' of full legalisation.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid announced last month that new regulations would come into force on Thursday, relaxing the rules about the circumstances in which the products can be given to patients.
The move follows several high-profile cases, including that of young epilepsy sufferers Alfie Dingley and Billy Caldwell, whose conditions appeared to be helped by cannabis oil.
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The medicines can only be prescribed by a specialist doctor - not a GP - on a case-by-case basis.
Crispin Blunt MP, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Drug Policy Reform, said the new legislation could have a “significant societal benefit”.
“Chronic pain is one of the conditions people will be able to use cannabis for,” he told Julia Hartley-Brewer.
“If that means people don’t self medicate with alcohol, or they’re taken off opiates and given cannabis-based medicine, there’s a very significant societal benefit.”
'Tears of joy'
Watch: Charlotte Caldwell tells Eamonn Holmes how she welcomes the new laws
New NHS guidance says a decision to prescribe cannabis products should only be made where other treatment options have been exhausted.
Alfie's mother Hannah Deacon welcomed the move when it was announced, saying: "I have personally seen how my son's life has changed due to the medical cannabis he is now prescribed.
"As a family we were facing his death. Now we are facing his life, full of joy and hope which is something I wish for each and every person in this country who could benefit from this medicine."
Billy's mother, Charlotte Caldwell, said she wept tears of joy at the move.
She said: "Only relatively recently did our Government and country really start to appreciate just how many wee children and people of all ages were affected by the difficulties associated with accessing medicinal cannabis.
"But once it became clear that it wasn't just about what was perceived to be a small number of very sick children, and that medicinal cannabis could make a life-changing or life-saving difference to more than a million people, the overwhelming support of the public and the incredible speed of reaction of the Home Secretary has delivered an utterly amazing result."
'Costs and benefits' of full legalistion
Mr Blunt said that the UK could now observe the effects of Canada’s full legalisation of cannabis for recreational use.
“If the medical guidance for the prescription of medicinal cannabis is too restrictive, you’ll have increased the demand for illegally supplying cannabis,” he said.
“[Canada] put in place the regulations and license conditions around the consumption of it, so the cannabis will be legally grown and it will be taxed, and sold to Canadian public who are adults. They will be able to protect their children in a way that we can’t in the United Kingdom.”
He added that the UK would have to weigh up the ‘costs and benefits’ of full legalisation.
“We’ll have the opportunity to see what happens in Canada and then come to a view as to whether or not it’s the right thing in terms of costs and benefits to society in whether we should follow them,” he said.
“Meanwhile we’ve got to get on with making as many people who need it get medicine from cannabis as soon as possible.”