Medical Cannabis is Legalized in the U.K., but Suffers from Access Issues



In November of 2018, the United Kingdom finally made medical marijuana available through their National Health Service (NHS) – one of the country’s publicly-funded healthcare systems.

But according to the Independent, the fight for access is still not over. As is often the case with many government systems, those needing cannabis find themselves bogged down in a slow-moving bureaucratic minefield.

As North America and some of Europe have made major progress getting a solid framework up and running, the U.K. still has some major ground to cover.


Pressure from Experts


Considerably late to the party, the U.K. legalized medical marijuana on November 1st of last year – roughly 18 years after one of its closest Commonwealth allies, Canada, set up its own medical cannabis program in 2001.

Regardless, pressure from health and government officials eventually won the day. According to the Independent:


“This change to the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001 was partly a response to a rapid evidence review by the chief medical officer, which concluded that some medicinal cannabis products were effective for some medical conditions, and partly due to formal advice from the government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to change the schedule.”


But of equal – if not greater – importance was the public pressure from lobbyists. Using appeals to emotion, like treating sick children, was a lynchpin of their strategy. The “in-your-face” approach to raising awareness undoubtedly had a huge influence on the legislative change.

The question, according to the Independent, is whether this popular wave oversold the idea of medical cannabis and consequently set unrealistic expectations.


“Slow and Bureaucratic System”


If there is one industry familiar with endless government red tape, it is the cannabis industry. Based on the slow start, it appears the NHS is equally bogged-down.

The Independent explains:


“Since the rescheduling, many NHS patients have been frustrated by what they see as a slow and bureaucratic system that has denied them access to cannabis treatments. Formal figures are not available but the number of NHS prescriptions since rescheduling is low – perhaps less than 100.”


This is particularly troubling, since arguably hundreds of thousands of people (if not more) have been suffering in silence, waiting for an alternative to the medications and treatments that either do not work or come with serious risks.


NHS Still Hesitant

Much like what was seen during the dawn of medical cannabis in the U.S. and Canada, U.K. doctors are rather hesitant to prescribe medical marijuana. Like their western counterparts, doctors and the NHS feel that more proof is needed before they will prescribe the drug more liberally:


Cannabis products which have yet to be formally approved as medicines are only available on the NHS under what are known as ‘specials’, and only after other types of treatment have been tried. Only consultants can prescribe these specials and many of them don’t think cannabis is as effective as existing treatments.”


Money is also a roadblock. The NHS covers the costs of various prescription medications, and medical marijuana will be one of them. However, certain NHS Trusts are unwilling to pay for the medication, because they do not feel it is effective enough to be worth the cost. This leaves patients to obtain prescriptions from private consultants and pay out of pocket.

Until a regulatory body is established, along with proper product licensing and training for health practitioners, medical marijuana in the U.K. will be almost as unreachable as it was back when it remained illegal.


WeedAdvisor’s Commitment to International Advocacy


WeedAdvisor understands the complexities of cannabis reform, especially when it comes to roadblocks and bureaucratic delays.

As an organization with network connections throughout the globe, we make every effort to interact with industry experts in other countries, with the goal of making medical and recreational cannabis accessible to those who want or need it.

We look forward to seeing the U.K. situation improve – as it likely will – and potentially become more active in its development over the next few years.


Latest posts