Wednesday, July 7, 1999 Published at 12:35 GMT 13:35 UK
BMA rejects legalisation of cannabis
Cannabis can have some beneficial effects
A call for cannabis to be legalised for medical use has been narrowly rejected by the British Medical Association (BMA).
Representatives at the annual BMA conference in Belfast also threw out a motion calling for the drug to be decriminalised for recreational use - by a huge majority.
Last year, the conference voted for trials into the possible medicinal benefits of cannabis.
These are set to begin in October. Some patients suffering from conditions such as multiple sclerosis and arthritis have said the drug has relieved their pain.
"People who are prosecuted for possession of cannabis may have their livelihoods destroyed for the use of a compound which has less adverse consequences than alcohol and tobacco.
"The BMA should stand up and act to help its patients. Making them criminals does not help them."
But Dr Joan Richards said trials on the medical benefits should be conducted before the BMA made calls for legalisation.
"We do not know enough about the possible benefits yet. We should wait for the evidence," she said.
Dr Frank Wells added: "I have spent a lifetime combatting the tobacco industry. I have also seen the effects of alcohol.
"If we pass a motion like this we are going to cause chaos."
Dr Vasco Fernandes, a public health doctor in Oxford, said cannabis was a "gateway drug".
"The reason why much of the youth of today use cannabis is because it's illegal - it's a risk thing.
"Legalise cannabis and you will move them onto harder drugs, especially heroin."
Edward Tierney, a GP in Rochdale, said voting for the decriminalisation of cannabis for recreational use would send out a confusing message to the public.
He said it would conflict with an earlier motion calling for a ban on smoking in public places.
"We know cannabis is the most widely used recreational drug, we know that it is usually smoked in a joint," he said.
"What in the name of God are we doing? Last year we voted for more scientific research and now we're asking for recreational use? We must be mad."
Chairman of the BMA Dr Ian Bogle said: "I think we should reject this motion.
"We have spent many years discussing how to get the public off cigarettes. We do not want to spend the next 20 years talking about how to get the public off cannabis."
Last year, the House of Lords science and technology committee backed the use of cannabinoids - chemicals in cannabis - for medicinal purposes.