HC Deb 23 January 1997 vol 288 cc1060-1
3. Mr. Gordon Prentice

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will seek to amend the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 to allow cannabis to be prescribed by medically qualified doctors. [10549]

Mr. Sackville


Mr. Prentice

What on earth is so dreadful about allowing medically qualified doctors to prescribe cannabis when it was quite lawful before 1971? Many people with disabling conditions, such as multiple sclerosis and arthritis, claim that cannabis gives them relief. Is it not curious that only two days ago the Minister said that dronabinol, which is an active derivative of cannabis, may be prescribed lawfully by hospital doctors? Some 24 years after cannabis was banned from use in hospitals, it has been discovered that dronabinol can combat nausea suffered by patients undergoing chemotherapy. Is there not a compelling case for allowing the doctors—and not the politicians—to decide?

Mr. Sackville

If there are medicinal claims about cannabis or its derivatives, they must pass through the same mechanisms as other medicines. Unless clinical trials prove that they are safe and efficacious and that there is a consistent level of product quality, they will not be licensed as medicines.

The World Health Organisation made recommendations about dronabinol. A company must lodge a licence application for the product, which must then pass through clinical trials in order to get a licence in this country. In the event of medicinal claims about products, applications can be made to the relevant authorities at the Medicines Control Agency.

Mr. Harry Greenway

Does my hon. Friend recall the words of the late Home Office pathologist, the famous Professor Francis Camp, who said that soft drugs such as cannabis inevitably lead to hard drugs and that hard drugs lead to death—often within seven years? Is that not a warning to the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice), for the Liberal Democrats and for all who advocate the use of soft drugs?

Mr. Sackville

Although there are some genuine cases, there is no doubt that many of those calling for the medicinal use of cannabis are using it as a stalking horse to promote the campaign for its legalisation. The Liberal Democrat party conference voted for the legalisation of cannabis, and I hope that the Liberal justice and home affairs spokesman, the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile), will withdraw from that decision. If there are medicinal uses for cannabis, they must be proved. In the absence of such evidence, we must not send a confused message to young people when we have told them that cannabis and all illegal drugs are dangerous and should be avoided.

Mr. Flynn

Would not the better message be that all drugs are dangerous, that young people who smoke cigarettes are 22 times more likely to use hard and soft drugs than other groups, and that in 95 per cent. of cases hard drugs are used under the influence of alcohol? Does the Minister recall that, in answer to a letter from three hon. Members representing three political parties—including his own—the Medical Research Council said that it was an established fact that cannabis was uniquely valuable in treating multiple sclerosis, the side-effects of chemotherapy and several other diseases and that there was no replacement product? Why on earth are the Government sticking to their line in order to gain popularity with the voters and thereby denying the sick a unique medicine?

Mr. Sackville

It is open to any producer to apply for a licence for a cannabis product. As to the hon. Gentleman's comments about other dangers, no one disagrees that pharmaceutical drugs and cigarettes are dangerous. However, he should not use them as a front for implicitly calling for the legalisation of drugs. I hope that Opposition Front Bench Members will distance themselves from his remarks.