The big news of the week, and a huge breakthrough for cannabis activism in the context of UK politics: on 27 June the government confirmed that an expert panel will begin accepting applications from senior clinicians to prescribe cannabis-based medicines.
The panel will be led by the Chief Medical Officer for Northern Ireland, Dr Michael McBride.
The panel, who will meet for the first time this week, will assess individual applications for the prescription of cannabis-based products based upon set criteria to ensure the treatment is safe. These applications can only be made by senior clinicians who are on the General Medical Council’s register with an active licence to practice.
The process has been designed to be “swift and accessible”. Once the panel has made its recommendation to Ministers, it will be for the Home Office or the Department of Health in Northern Ireland to determine whether to issue a licence and any application can expect to receive a final decision “within two to four weeks”.
The Government said it was “also committed to reviewing the fees paid for licences that are awarded as a result of the advice of the expert panel”.
In the meantime, for applications for a licence made by the NHS, neither individual patients nor their families will be asked to make any financial contribution towards the cost of any licence that may be issued.
British biotech firm Oxford Cannabinoid Technologies (OCT) has revealed Star Trek legend Patrick Stewart as a patron in the same week that i announced £7.6m in investment.
As City AM reports, “the firm aims to boldly go where no firm has gone before in the fields of pain relief, oncology and neurological disorders, with a new laboratory in Europe”.
Crossbench peer Baroness Meacher, an advocate of drug reform in parliament, will sit on an advisory board for OCT. Meecher and Stewart are both providing services unpaid.
The fundraising for round was led by venture capital firms Casa Verde Capital and Imperial Brands Ventures. Kingsley Capital Partners is the largest shareholder in the business.
Stewart said this was an opportunity for Britain to “lead the way in what is, in my view, one of the world’s most exciting fields of medical research…. The possibilities seem to me to be virtually limitless.”
The number of people convicted for cannabis possession by Devon and Cornwall Police has been reduced by 59% since 2012.
In 2012, 342 people were found guilty of cannabis possession in court, according to figures from the Ministry of Justice. In 2017 the number was down 142.
Drug legislation charity Release said the decline in stop and search across England and Wales had been biggest factor.
Niamh Eastwood, executive director of Release said: “This trend is welcomed as low-level possession offences should not be a priority for police.
“That being said over 50% of all stop and searches still focus on this type of activity, with huge disparities in how drugs are policed across the country.”
Of those successfully prosecuted by Devon and Cornwall Police in 2017, 103 were given a fine or discharge, while three received prison sentences.
A scientific study has found that cannabis could keep the brain ‘young’. Researchers from the University of Bonn said that a ‘chronic low dose of THC restores cognitive function in old mice’.
Andreas Zimmer, a professor at the Institute of Molecular Psychiatry: ‘Learning and memory functions improved dramatically in these animals, and they performed as well as mice that were much, much younger. What we observed was quite staggering.’