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Friday, 2 February, 2001, 19:43 GMT
Cannabis bill set to fail

A change in the law on cannabis remains unlikely
Ministers have been accused of "political cowardice" as a backbencher's attempt to legalise the medicinal use of cannabis looks certain to fail.

Labour MP Paul Flynn, a chemist, told the Commons he had tried three times to change the law to bring relief to sufferers of chronic illnesses like Multiple Sclerosis.

Paul Flynn: New laws are needed now
He told MPs: "The response from ministers each time ... has had the lingering scent of hypocrisy, callousness, indifference and political cowardice."

But at the end of his bill's second reading debate not enough MPs actually voted to make any further progress on the bill likely.

Mr Flynn's bill was backed by eight MPs and voted down by four, a total well below the required 40 MPs needed to make a vote binding

Wrong message

Speaking during the debate Conservative MP Anne McIntosh spelt out her opposition to Mr Flynn's proposal: "I am concerned that in agreeing to this bill, we would give the wrong message to those who seek to legalise cannabis for recreational purposes," she said.

Trials have been going on for 5,000 years for billions of people

Paul Flynn
While speaking for the government, Home Office Minister Barbara Roche said: "It would be premature to amend the misuse of drugs legislation to allow the prescribing of cannabis before the quality, safety and efficacy of a medicinal form of the drug has been scientifically established and a marketing authorisation issued by the medicines control agency."

She added that the government was backed by the British Medical Association and the Royal Society in its belief that raw cannabis should not be legalised for medicinal use.

But Mr Flynn mocked the minister's claims that further trials were needed.

"The medicine of cannabis is the most ancient in the world. Trials have been going on for 5,000 years for billions of people.

'Less toxic than aspirin'

"It's the world's most ancient medicine. It was used by the people that built the pyramids for their eye problems. It was used by Queen Victoria for her menstrual cramps."

The drug was, he said, "less toxic than aspirin and has never knowingly killed anyone".

But he said the serious issue at stake was the situation of thousands of people who are illegally using it to treat conditions like the nausea brought on by chemotherapy.

That meant, he said: "The law is in disrepute. The law is a joke."

Spelling out the terms of his bill he said it would "allow cannabis in its natural state, to be provided by a limited number of doctors in an unlicensed form to named patients just as heroin and cocaine are prescribed legally now."

Fellow Welsh MP and former leader of Plaid Cymru, Dafydd Wigley, gave the bill his backing.

He told the House: "This is a matter of urgency and it is something that cannot wait for another four or five years for these tests to be concluded and then to be evaluated and then to be acted upon."

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See also:

01 Feb 01 | Health
Cannabis 'damages mental health'
18 Oct 00 | UK Politics
Government stands by cannabis policy
10 Oct 00 | UK Politics
Eighth Tory admits cannabis use
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