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Wednesday, 7 February, 2001, 15:33 GMT
Medical cannabis 'to be legal'
Cannabis trial
Cannabis could be prescribed by doctors in a few years
The government will legalise cannabis for medicinal use if trials show the drug can help patients.

Home Office Minister Charles Clarke told peers that the government will change the law to allow doctors to prescribe cannabis if the drug is found to have therapeutic benefits.

However, Mr Clarke insisted that recreational use of cannabis would remain illegal.

Mr Clarke's comments came on the day that the government rejected the key findings of a landmark report which proposed the easing of penalties for possession of soft drugs and a reclassification of ecstasy and LSD.

Therapeutic benefits

The therapeutic benefits of cannabis are being studied in two trials in England - one by the Home Office and another by a private company.

The private company, GW Pharmaceutical, hopes to have a licence to produce cannabis for medical use by 2003.

Giving evidence to the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee Mr Clarke said: "If the clinical trials into cannabis are successful the government is clear that we are willing to amend the Misuse of Drugs Act to allow prescribing.

Charles Clarke
Mr Clarke pledged a change in the law
"The Home Office and the Department of Health are very, very clear that once the trials outcomes are clear ... we will act very expeditiously that any approved treatment can be brought into circulation."

But he emphasised the government would only act on the basis of scientific evidence and not on the testimonies of individuals who said cannabis had helped their condition.

He said: "We must act on the basis of scientific tests.

"To get to the position of changing the law we need to have a proper scientific judgement."

Warning

But Dr Brian Davis of the Medicines Control Agency Licensing Division said even if the present trials had positive results more extensive trials would be needed before cannabis could be licensed for therapeutic use.

He said there were still questions concerning cannabis and he referred to a study which suggested that the drug impaired the fertility of male monkeys.

He said: "We feel this needs to be investigated further."

Attempts by MPs to introduce a bill to legalise the medicinal use of cannabis have previously failed.

Last week, Labour backbencher Paul Flynn, a chemist, accused ministers of indifference and political cowardice over their refusal to back his bill.

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See also:

07 Feb 01 | UK Politics
Ministers reject drugs law overhaul
02 Feb 01 | UK Politics
Cannabis bill set to fail
18 Oct 00 | UK Politics
Government stands by cannabis policy
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