The United Kingdom is a cannabis conundrum. On the one hand it is home to the leading medical cannabis pharmaceutical company, GW Pharma, while on the other its draconian drugs policy leaves medical cannabis patients with no alternative but to break the law and face criminal prosecution.
And yet, despite the hardline of current Prime Minister Theresa May who denies outright that cannabis has any medical use, there are subtle signs that the winds of change are descending on the great British backwater.
So let's take a look at what is happening in the UK that makes a shift in policy a distinct possibility.
Image courtesy of Endoca
1. Medical cannabis use guidelines to be supplied to GPs
It's estimated that about one million people are using medical cannabis. If that's the case, it's only right and proper that doctors have a cursory knowledge of how medical cannabis is used.
That's why the The Council of the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) in conjunction with Clear Cannabis Law Reform (CLEAR) and Professor Mike Barnes, have agreed to come up with a series of guidelines for doctors regarding the use of medical cannabis.
According to CLEAR: "In due course, probably by the end of the year, a booklet will be available for download by all GPs from the RCGP website. It will set out balanced and reasonable advice on the appropriate use of cannabis for specific medical indications. The guidelines will also cover harm reduction advice and provide a basic grounding in the scientific evidence and the endocannabinoid system."
2. More politicians are getting on board
Just because Theresa May opposes the idea, it doesn't mean the rest of the Conservative Party are against medical cannabis. Dr Dan Poulter, a former Health Minister is just one Tory MP who has come out in favour of legalising medical cannabis. Then there's veteran Labour MP Paul Flynn, who in an impassioned plea encouraged MPs to become civilly disobedient and consume cannabis for medical reasons in the House of Commons Gardens. On the 10th October Mr Flynn will be present a 10 minute rule bill proposing the legalisation of medical cannabis which will be accompanied outside Parliament by a cannabis tea party hosted by the United Patients Alliance.
And they're not alone. According to a poll, more than half of MPs said they were also in favour of legalising medical cannabis.
3. Even the Daily Mail prints pro-pot stories
Whatever you think about the Daily Mail, one cannot deny that it represents the zeitgeist of Middle England. So when exclusives about children whose lives have been turned around by taking cannabis sits alongside scare stories on immigration, one knows that some kind of sea change is taking place. In the end, tabloid newspapers love a good story. And if it involves a child coming back from the brink of death thanks to a controversial and very illegal plant, they know it will get people talking. And people talking is just what the medical cannabis campaign needs. So for the first time in my life, I will utter the words, "Daily Mail, I thank you."
4. The MS Society supports medical cannabis
One of the conditions commonly recognised as responding well to medical cannabis is multiple sclerosis. In fact a drug (Sativex) combining the two principal compounds, THC and CBD, has already been developed for the pain and spasticity associated with the disease. Unfortunately, due to its excessive price, Sativex isn't readily available across the country with patients either paying for it privately, or instead turning to the black market to buy herbal cannabis, or indeed growing cannabis plants themselves.
This year the MS Society officially issued its support for the use of medical cannabis to treat the 1 in 10 patients who have not been helped by conventional treatment. The society said, "we think cannabis should be legalised for medicinal use for people with MS to relieve their pain and muscle spasms when other treatments haven't worked."
5. The UK is about to host its first medical cannabis expo
Cannabis prohibition in the UK is awash with contradictions. Take for instance how GW Pharma, the world's leading medical cannabis pharmaceutical company is actually UK born and bred, growing huge quantities of cannabis for research purposes thanks to its licence granted by the Home Office - the same Home Office that refuses to acknowledge cannabis has any therapeutic value.
Another anomaly is the choice by Cannatech, the Israeli based, self proclaimed "world's premier medical cannabis convention," to make London the home of its upcoming event in October. Aimed primarily at investors, it seeks to join "industry leaders from across the globe to discuss what is and what's next in cannabis innovation," with October's edition promising "to reflect the unique needs of the current market in the UK."
Will the open discussion about investment opportunities in the burgeoning UK medical cannabis market force the UK government to rethink its stance on the future of cannabis as medicine?
6. Approximately one million British people use cannabis or health reasons
It's very difficult to accurately gauge how many of the British public use the cannabis plant to treat health conditions not helped by conventional medicine, but patient group End Our Pain estimates that it could be as many as one million. The actual total could be even more when you consider the exponential growth in people taking CBD, the non-psychoactive and therefore legal compound extracted from hemp. With studies showing it to be effective in reducing inflammation and calming anxiety, CBD is finding favour amongst patients who are not comfortable sourcing cannabis from the black market.
So is the UK really on the cusp of a change in medical cannabis policy? Unfortunately, while Theresa May continues as Prime Minister, it is likely that, to quote her predecessor Baroness Thatcher, "this lady's not for turning". But, with rumblings of machiavellian plots within the Conservative Party making her tenureship ever more shaky, under a future more enlightened leader, perhaps Britain could find itself joining Germany, Canada and Israel as a medical cannabis force to be reckoned with.