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Volume 527: debated on Monday 9 May 2011

We do not recognise cannabis in its raw form to have any medicinal purposes; cannabis is a harmful drug. However, Sativex, a cannabis-based medicine, has been approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency as a safe and effective medicine for patients with multiple sclerosis.

In Canada, Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Finland, Italy, Israel, Spain, Portugal and parts of the United States, patients can take medicinal cannabis in its natural form safely and legally. Why are seriously ill patients in our country, particularly those suffering the symptoms of multiple sclerosis, forced to break the law when they want to use their medicine of choice?

The advice we have received from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs confirms that cannabis is a significant public health issue. I certainly sympathise with anyone suffering from a debilitating illness, but we do not condone any illicit drug taking, for whatever reason. As I have indicated, GPs may prescribe Sativex in the circumstances mentioned. That is available, and we are dealing with its regulation.

That is not the most significant medical issue in relation to cannabis. In its higher form in particular, there are significant risks to young people, such as the probable causal link to mental illness, especially psychosis and schizophrenia. Will the Minister reassure the House that the Government will continue to take a tough line and ensure effective enforcement of the law on possession of cannabis?

I know that my hon. Friend takes these issues incredibly seriously, and has focused on drugs policy for some time. I assure him that our position is that the classification of “illegality” can influence behaviour and be a meaningful factor when people are contemplating taking drugs. That is why we do not have any proposals to change the classification of cannabis, and why we place so much importance on the current legal arrangements in ensuring we reduce supply and deal with these problems. There is no change of policy.