On Oct. 10, a bill calling for legalized medical marijuana in the United Kingdom passed its first reading in Parliament completely unopposed.
On the same day, a planned protest was executed involving hundreds of medical cannabis users ingesting their medicine in front of the Parliament building in London. The protest was called by MP Paul Flynn, arguably the biggest advocate in the U.K. government for legal medical cannabis.
Last July, Flynn invited medical cannabis users to engage in civil disobedience on the day he planned to present the bill. The protest that occurred was seen by advocates as a huge success and no arrests were made.
Although this progressive news has given optimism to the thousands of people calling for legal access to cannabis as medicine, the U.K. government has been notoriously opposed to cannabis legalization in any form.
The bill is headed for its second reading in February 2018, but can the growing acceptance of legal cannabis in the U.K. continue its momentum in the meantime?
“The U.K. cannabis reform scene has certainly grown. It was only a couple of years ago that every single news story was a negative spin, usually constructed on a foundation of hyperbole,” said Jason Reed, executive director of the British branch of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) in an interview with Marijuana.com.
Reed added that because of the unflattering press surrounding marijuana, government officials were disinterested in discussing the topic openly. “The subject became the clichéd political ‘hot potato’ with no Member of Parliament willing to touch it.”
Thankfully, recent protests and government shaming on behalf of advocates like Flynn, Reed, and many others have brought medical cannabis into a much better position. “As we’ve seen over the last few weeks, the ratio of negative press to positive seems to now be in favor of the reform side. Cannabis groups in the U.K. are certainly doing well in the battle for hearts and minds.”
Reed pointed out that the United Kingdom faces a different set of challenges than the United States or even Canada when it comes to cannabis legalization. In the U.S., state-by-state legalization is happening and in Canada, British Columbia carried the flag of cannabis freedom long before any other provinces were on board. In the U.K., however, Britons are forced to advocate for cannabis at the federal level first.
“Unlike our North American friends, the U.K. has no way of breaking this down into state-by-state initiatives. We’re essentially working on a federal stage, looking to reform nationally and with a complex political process. This presents challenges, but also opportunities,” said Reed.
Regardless of the uphill battle with the federal government in Britain, specific regions are pushing for change. “There has been a great deal of progress with regional reforms,” said Reed.
“In Durham, a North East region of the U.K., the local cannabis social clubs have worked with the Police and Crime Commissioner Ron Hogg, to get a quasi-decriminalization in place. In practice, it’s more of a de-prioritization with the local police using tolerance and discretion. This is a good example of what can be achieved with sensible dialogue and pragmatic approaches.”
The police and citizens of England and its territories are not the only supporters of cannabis as medicine, they are receiving significant help from advocacy groups as well. “The United Patients Alliance has recently demonstrated what can be achieved with a coalition of cannabis activists, supporting politicians such as Paul Flynn and Layla Moran. This is another example of the progress which can be made when there’s cooperation from an array of sectors.”
Reed added that for legalization to become a reality, there are three fronts advocates must engage. “Media, politics, and the public mood. All are intertwined. Being mindful of all three is, of course, a necessity. With careful planning and an eye on the big picture, cannabis reform is certainly achievable,” Reed concluded.
As advocates for cannabis legalization march toward the second reading of the bill next February, there is clearly a lot of work to be done. But according to those in the know, if the effort is made, the next step for cannabis could be legal medicine for those who desperately need it.