Held at Portcullis House, Westminster at 7pm on Wednesday 27th June, the symposium took place ahead of the 2nd reading of the debate on the proposed bill of legalisation of Cannabis (Medicinal Purposes) in the House of Commons scheduled for July 6th.
In light of Sajid Javid’s intervention last week, granting permission for two mothers to legally use cannabis to treat their children in the UK and launching a review into medical uses of cannabis, the symposium of experts deliberated the benefits of cannabis-based medicine and called for change in the legal status of the drug for medicinal use in the UK.
The symposium consisted of five individuals invested in changing this law: Damian Jr Gong Marley, Professor Green, Norman Lamb MP, Dr Frank D’Ambrosio and Change.org activist Kate Rothwell.
Damian Jr Gong Marley, the legendary Grammy award winning reggae artist, and youngest son of Bob Marley is an advocate of the medical benefits of cannabis. In 2016 Damian partnered with Ocean Grown Extracts to buy a former prison in California, the Claremont Custody Centre, to turn it into a farm producing cannabis oils, extracts and other products for medicinal use.The music video for Damian’s recently released single Medication, which features his brother Stephen Marley, was shot in the former prison and stars former inmates and includes testimonials from people who’ve been helped by the plant including as US Marine Crops Sergeant Sean Major who uses cannabis for brain trauma and PTSD.
Damian Jr Gong, Marley spoke on the growing scientific evidence for the benefits of cannabis: It’s been a big part of my culture from ever since. A big part of Jamaican culture, reggae music and my faith as a Rasta. Itߣs a big part of my culture. Even before proof of the medical benefits of the plant, we were always endorsing the plant. We use it as a spiritual sacrament and recreationally. We have a saying in Jamaica that: The herb is the healing of the nation. With it becoming legal in various places, there’s now slowly more research that proves there is evidence of that.
Representing the political establishment Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat MP for North Norfolk and chair of the Science and Technology Select Committee, called on Theresa May to legalise cannabis, particularly in the wake of recent news stories about how children like Alfie Dingley and Billy Caldwell, who suffer from seizures, could benefit from using cannabis-based medicine.
Norman Lamb MP spoke on the significance of recent cases, the importance of medicinal legalisation and the potential for full legalisation: I’ve always said that you have to get medicinal use legalised first, and I think last week was a very significant moment because it was the first time a government has reacted by saying: We’re reviewing it. That’s not nearly enough, and we need to keep pushing them constantly to go the whole way, but that was a big breakthrough for this government to do that, and it was because children’s lives were seen to be at risk. They thought: There’s political embarrassment here. If we can get medicinal use legalised, just as has happened now in the majority of US states, then you can have a rational debate about full legalisation, which I strongly support.
UK Rapper, documentary maker and activist Professor Green (AKA Stephen Manderson) brought his passion and insight to the panel following his critically acclaimed BBC documentary on the subject, Is It Time to Legalise Weed?
Professor Green&#a0;spoke on British attitudes to cannabis: I think it’s a generational thing, to be honest, and I donߣt think we have a very liberal attitude to much. What happens with that is you have a lack of education because things aren’t spoken about. We’re less liberal when it comes to many things when you compare us to other parts of the world, and what we get from that is many more problems. It doesn’t help anything, all it does it cause more problems. If somethingߣs underground, it’s not spoken about. It’s all the scare–mongering in the media. How many times do you see cannabis psychosis in the newspapers?
Dr Frank D’Ambrosio delivered his expertise to the debate. As one of the USA’s leading voices for medicinal cannabis policy reform his knowledge of how successful medical marijuana has been in the US proved invaluable.
Dr Frank spoke on California’s experience with legalisation: California is doing just fine. I don’t think anybody needs to worry about California. We’ve had medical cannabis legalised since 1996, we passed the Compassionate Use Act, Proposition 15, Senate Bill 420. So for 20 years we’ve had patients getting access to medicine. Although the underground market still existed, people were using the dispensaries and they were able to get their medicine. Two years ago we voted for legalisation for the recreational end. Recreational only means intent. Just because youߣre intending to use the cannabis to achieve the psychoactive effect of the THC, doesn’t mean you’re not still getting the benefits. Even though it’s called recreational, you’re still getting the medical benefits.
Kate Rothwell, who started this petition via Change.org provided both a personal story and more systemic ask, calling for legalisation for medical use in the UK, and for it to be available on the NHS. Inspired by the experience of her 11-year-old cousin, Oliver, who has severe epilepsy that is alleviated by cannabis oil, she highlighted the predicament faced by many parents where doctors are forced to withdraw medical help on the NHS if patients are using cannabis oil. Leaving families having to choose between medical care or an increase in seizures.
Kate Rothwell spoke on her cousin Oliver and the family situation which inspired her to start her petition: About 18 months ago, my aunt and uncle spoke to the hospital who said: You can try cannabis oil. We’re not allowed to prescribe that because obviously it’s not legal as a medication here. They bought it online and were delivering it at home, a couple of drops, and the symptoms dropped massively. He was having 20 seizures a day and that dropped down to just a handful, which was completely life–changing for him and for our whole family, really. About a month ago, the doctors turned around and said: We’re really sorry, we thought it was going to become legal sooner than this and our hands are completely tied. You’re going to have to stop giving him the medication. They had to, because the NHS couldnߣt give them any other medication if he was still on cannabis oil. He came off it, and within 48 hours he had a drop seizure and knocked out his teeth. He’s been having really severe seizures ever since. It’s absolutely devastating, and none of us really knew what to do.
The symposium can be viewed in full on NME.com Friday 29th June 2018.