What is the MHRA? [Weed Laws in England]

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, better known as the MHRA, is a British organization. It acts as an executive agency as part of the UK Department of Health and Social Care. Its primary goal is to make sure that medical devices and medicines are both effective and safe to use.

It is a relatively new body, as it was only formed in 2003 after a merger between the Medical Devices Agency and Medicines Control Agency. There was a further change in 2013 when there was an additional merger, this time with the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control. At the time of writing, the MHRA consists of over 1,300 employees and has its HQ is in London, England.

MHRA Research into Marijuana

Cannabis was made illegal in the United Kingdom way back in 1928 as an addition to the 1920 Dangerous Drugs Act. However, physicians were allowed to prescribe weed for medical use until the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act. Marijuana was deemed to be a Class B drug. It enjoyed a brief spell as a less harmful Class C drug in 2004, but was returned to its Class B status in 2009.

However, the UK Government has sought to distinguish between psychoactive THC and non-intoxicating CBD. As a result, THC and raw cannabis are Schedule 1 drugs, whereas Sativex, a pharmaceutical drug containing THC and CBD, is classified as a Schedule 4 drug.

In 2016, the MHRA released details of its investigation into CBD, stating that it had a “restoring, correcting or modifying” impact on a human being’s “physiological functions.” The review of CBD only occurred because of the intervention of MediPen, a CBD vaporizer firm.

Back in 2015, the UK Government responded to a 200,000-signature petition which called for the legalization of weed. Alas, it said that cannabis unquestionably caused harm to individuals and society as a whole. This is despite the fact that full legalization would create at least 10,000 new jobs, bring in over £900 million in new taxes, and save the police force and judicial system approximately £400 million.

The MHRA’s findings when it reviewed CBD were in stark contrast to the government’s statement on marijuana as a whole. MediPen elected to contact the MHRA because there was no regulatory status for CBD at that time, which meant the industry grew without regulation. After the review, the UK Government ruled that CBD vendors needed a license to sell their wares or face a maximum prison sentence of two years.

A New Hope for Cannabis

2018 saw some exciting news for those campaigning for the legalization of marijuana in the UK. In July, the government announced that medicinal cannabis would be made legal on prescription. At present, the list of qualifying conditions is extremely short, and the move only came after public outrage over the case of Billy Caldwell. The young boy suffers from epilepsy, and the severe seizures he suffers are only eased with the aid of medical marijuana.

His mother was bringing cannabis oil into the UK, but when it was seized, she feared that her son could die. After Billy’s case was made public, the British Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, announced that cannabis oil would become legal in very specific circumstances. In December 2018, two-year old Jorja Emerson became the first person in the UK to be prescribed medical marijuana. Jorja suffers from severe epilepsy, and her father, Robin, believes weed makes the difference between life and death for his daughter.

This doesn’t mean that attaining marijuana is easy. It remains a long and arduous process, since the NHS has ruled that you can only receive medical cannabis when all other treatment options have been tried and have failed. It is also expensive: Jorja’s parents must pay an estimated £12,000 a year for the treatment.

Javid had commissioned a two-part review in June 2018 and decided to reschedule cannabis-derived medicinal products after viewing the results. With the aid of the Department for Health and Social Care, the MHRA had to create a clear definition of what a marijuana-derived medicinal product was to ensure rescheduling and the availability of such products via prescription.

The only forms of weed to be made available to the public are those that meet the criteria set by the MHRA. All other forms of the herb will remain illegal. The first part of the review was conducted by Professor Dame Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Advisor. In her conclusion, she said there was sufficient evidence that medical marijuana had therapeutic effects.

The second part of the review was conducted by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD). It recommended that marijuana-derived medical products which met a clear definition should be placed in Schedule 2 of the 2001 Misuse of Drugs Regulations. It agreed with Davies’ assertion that these products offered medical benefits in certain circumstances.

In September 2018, CLEAR was invited to help the MHRA and Department of Health in crafting a definition of cannabis-derived medicinal products. Unfortunately, it already appears that pharmaceutical drugs derived from marijuana, such as Epidolex and Sativex, will be made legal, while the natural version of the herb will remain illegal.

Final Thoughts on the MHRA & Marijuana in the UK

It is clear that the tide of public opinion in the UK has turned firmly in favor of marijuana legalization. Even Bernard Hogan-Rowe, former Metropolitan Chief of Police and staunch opponent of cannabis, has softened his stance. He now believes that evidence supporting marijuana legalization should be urgently reviewed following full legalization in Canada.

However, it seems that full legalization in Britain is a long way off. The Home Office recently stated that allowing weed for specific medical conditions will not pave the way to full legalization. Even so, it is encouraging that the relevant bodies, such as the MHRA, are now being asked to investigate the medical benefits of marijuana thoroughly.

For too long, a ‘head in the sand’ approach has been tried, and it has failed. Once the MHRA, or other British organizations, find enough evidence of weed’s medicinal capabilities, it will be hard for the government to ignore calls for complete legalization.