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Registered: 07/06/10
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UK: Home Office wrongly allowed import of medicinal cannabis
    #493066 - 10/29/10 09:02 AM (8 years, 10 months ago)

Mary O'Hara

The Guardian

Friday 29 Oct 2010

Email incorrectly said EU law allowed certain people to bring small quantities of cannabis into UK for personal use

The Home Office sent emails to members of the public wrongly stating that some people were legally permitted to import medicinal cannabis to Britain, potentially putting anyone who acted on the flawed advice at risk of arrest or prosecution.

Earlier this year officials in the drugs strategy unit incorrectly advised that under EU law individuals could bring small quantities of medicinal cannabis into the UK for personal use if they had valid documentation, including a prescription from a doctor in an EU country where the drug was legal.

The advice, which appeared to fly in the face of UK drugs laws that ban possession of the drug under any circumstances, was later posted online and rapidly went viral, sparking heated debate about the legal status of the drug.

Some cannabis forums predicted that on the back of the official guidance thousands of chronically ill British people would travel to the Netherlands and Belgium, the two EU states where the drug is legal for medical use, to obtain prescriptions. According to drugs charities, enquiries about the legality of importing the drug for medical use jumped after the online speculation. Release said it received numerous requests for clarification of the law, including from the government's own drugs advice helpline, Frank.

A Home Office spokesman initially denied the department had given out inaccurate information about medicinal use of cannabis, saying the UK's position was clear. It issued a statement saying: "Cannabis is dangerous and has no medicinal benefits in herbal form. It remains illegal for UK residents to possess cannabis in any form."

However the spokesman later confirmed that emails containing incorrect advice had been sent. He suggested the error was due to a misinterpretation by department officials of a 15-year-old piece of European law known as the Schengen agreement.

Clause 75 of the agreement regulates travel within the EU with prescribed controlled drugs. However it only permits people who are officially resident in countries where the drug being carried is legal to move between countries while in possession of it. Conditions also apply meaning individuals must have the appropriate permits and a doctor's prescription from the relevant country. This means British residents cannot travel to the UK in possession of medicinal cannabis even if they managed to acquire a prescription in a country where it is legal.

The chief executive of Release, Sebastian Saville, said it was a pity the clause did not apply to UK residents. "What is more worrying though is how Home Office advice could have led to people being prosecuted and potentially imprisoned," he said.

Campaigners for the legalisation of medicinal cannabis are often people with chronic illnesses who claim it is especially effective as a pain reliever. They point to countries like Holland where the drug can be prescribed for medical reasons as evidence that British drugs laws are draconian. Some argue that denial of the drug to people in pain is tantamount to discrimination.

Saville says Britain should be looking to California where regulated medical cannabis is widely available and where a referendum on whether to legalise it for general use is scheduled for 2 November.

A spokesman for the Home Office said: "We apologise if inaccurate information was given in good faith during correspondence with the department." He said staff dealing with the subject of drugs and EU law had received clarification on the issue.





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