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Monday, June 21, 1999 Published at 17:47 GMT 18:47 UK


New call for cannabis reform

Cannabis: Subject of continuing health debate

A group of Scottish doctors is calling for the legalisation of cannabis for "medicinal and recreational purposes".

BMS Scottish Secretary Brian Potter explains the committee's thinking
The British Medical Association's Scottish Committee for Public Health Medicine has tabled a motion on the issue at the BMA's conference in Belfast next month.

It wants the association to "close the credibility gap" by urging the BMA to launch a campaign for cannabis to be made legal in certain circumstances.

The doctors say the move would help them to be more honest with young people about the dangers of drug abuse.

[ image:
"Less toxic" than drink, tobacco
The committee believes that demonising cannabis along with heroin and cocaine, when it is less dangerous than drink or cigarettes, damages the credibility of the anti-drugs message.

It says when young people discover that cannabis is not as toxic as alcohol or tobacco they also begin to doubt the important and accurate message on harder drugs.

Dr Brian Potter, the BMA's Scottish Secretary, accepted this was not the view of all members and he did not expect the motion to win widespread support.

The same motion was put before the BMA's public health conference by the Scottish committee earlier this month and was defeated by delegates.

'Raw smoking'

The BMA's current policy is to support the development of the active ingredients of cannabis for medical use but not to back raw smoking of the drug to relieve pain as experts say it contains too many contaminants.

Dr Potter said: "In Scotland, we have 35 deaths every day from tobacco-related diseases.

""We don't even have that in five days for the whole of the year in Scotland for hard drugs and it's difficult to find any at all from cannabis."

The Scottish doctors want the campaign called for in their motion to press for the use of cannabis to be permitted for "medicinal and recreational purposes".

[ image: Some peers want the law changed]
Some peers want the law changed
Scotland Against Drugs Chief Executive Alistair Ramsay said the doctors were giving a "mixed message".

"Part of the reason I think that this statement has been made is attributed to the fact there's a concern that young people are not getting the message about drugs.

"I have a lot of sympathy about that."

He said the debate needed to take a "broader view".

Mr Ramsay added that drug-taking was not just about substances, it was about people's behaviour.

Dr Jamie Inglis, of HEBS, says many questions about cannabis remain unanswered
The Health Education Board for Scotland said it welcomed any debate on the use of drugs. The Scottish Office said it remained convinced that cannabis led users onto harder drugs.

Last November, the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee said the government should allow doctors to prescribe cannabis for medical use.

Inquiry Chairman Lord Perry of Walton said: "We have seen enough evidence to convince us that a doctor might legitimately want to prescribe cannabis to relieve pain, or the symptoms of multiple sclerosis and that the criminal law ought not to stand in the way."

The peers welcomed the Royal Pharmaceutical Society's trials with a view to the eventual licensing of cannabis as a medicine but they insisted the drug should be "rescheduled" immediately, rather than wait years for the outcome of the tests.

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House of Lords report on cannabis, November 1998

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