Medical marijuana is technically legal in the UK now, but some critics say it's harder to get than ever before.
Last week, the United Kingdom's National Heath Service (NHS) rolled out new laws that allowed doctors to prescribe medical marijuana. The list of applicable conditions is quite short, consisting of severe childhood epilepsy, nausea caused by chemotherapy and MS. While some say this is a step in the right direction for UK patient care, some British politicians say the program is being stemmed by overly restrictive guidelines.
"Those responsible for this botched and cruel outcome should hang their head in shame," Sir Mike Penning, co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Medical Cannabis Under Prescription, told The Telegraph. "Guidance and associated recommendations have effectively shut down the policy, crushing the hopes of many thousands of patients and their families."
Penning places the blame for the failed implementation of medical marijuana squarely on the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) and the British Paediatric Neurology Association (BPNA) drafted guidelines. Both bodies have suggested that cannabis only be prescribed as a last resort option, leaving some patients worse off now than they were before.
"We are now in the quite frankly cruel and ludicrous position of families with severely epileptic children once again having to fundraise to go abroad to get access to a medicine that we have just legalized in the UK. Something has gone very wrong here."
And those physicians who do decide to go against the RCP's and BPNA's recommendations could be risking their careers, says Professor Michael Barnes. Barnes was the physician who had previously secured a medical marijuana license for Alfie Dingley, a young boy who suffers from a rare form of epilepsy and became the face of the UK's medical marijuana reform campaign.
"These guidelines are already having an effect," Barnes said. "There was a child on Friday who was fitting in one of the London hospitals and a consultant wanted to prescribe cannabis but got a call from a director saying his career would be jeopardized if he did."
Emma Appleby's nine-year-old daughter, Teagan, is one of those children who is seeing the implications of the highly restrictive medicinal cannabis policy. Appleby had previously secured a medical marijuana license for Teagan, but it has since been revoked. She'll now have to look outside of the country to get her daughter the care she needs.
"I feel crushed," she said. "My hopes were raised. Now they are smashed. This is chaotic and cruel. I am sat by a bedside, exhausted from watching my daughter suffer and I now have to worry about how to raise the money to go to Holland."
Penning has called upon UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock to step in and push to have the overly restrictive regulations loosened. And until something happens to that effect, the majority patients in the UK who could benefit from legal medical marijuana will continue to suffer.