An eminent Norfolk doctor said today that patients may be forced into criminality if a medicinal form of cannabis is not made available.
Consultant anaesthetist Dr William Notcutt, from the James Paget Hospital, Gorleston, spoke of his frustration after today’s Court of Appeal ruling quashing an attempt to effectively legalise the use of the Class C drug for the relief of severe pain.
It means sufferers of conditions including multiple sclerosis, serious bone conditions and chronic back pain now face a Hobson’s choice: break the law or live in pain on less effective treatments.
Dr Notcutt, who submitted written evidence to the court, was responsible for Britain’s first clinical trial of cannabis.
His research was used to develop the cannabis-based drug Sativex which has been licensed for use by multiple sclerosis patients in Canada where it will begin widespread use soon but which has still not be legislated for in the UK.
He said: “I’m not entirely surprised by this decision but it serves to highlight the importance of making a medicinal product available to patients as soon as possible.
“The treatment has been available for more than two years now and we are still not able to prescribe it.
“Only today I was talking to a patient who could benefit hugely from such treatment.
“The most galling thing is doctors in Canada will soon be able to prescribe Sativex and we’re trailing behind.
“From a patients point of view it must be very frustrating. They don’t want to break the law but until a medicinal alternative is available, some may feel they have little choice.”
Three judges ruled against the argument that conduct that would otherwise be unlawful was “excused or justified by the need to avoid a greater evil”.
The court had been told that cannabis was more effective than conventional
forms of pain relief and did not have the potentially serious and life-threatening side-effects of alternative treatments.
But the judges ruled that the defences of necessity or duress should not apply to the use of the drug and should be confined to cases where someone faced “imminent danger of physical injury”.
The court dismissed appeals by Barry Quayle, 38, of Market Rasen, Lincolnshire; Reay Wales, 53, of Ipswich; Graham Kenny, 25, of Shipley, West Yorkshire; and Anthony Taylor, 54, and May Po Lee, 28, both from London.
All had been given either a fine, community service or suspended jail sentence for possessing or importing the drug.
The judges also ruled that the defence should not have succeeded in the case of Jeffrey Ditchfield, of North Wales, who was acquitted of possessing the drug with intent to supply it to victims of serious and painful medical conditions.
The appellants have been permitted to apply to the House of Lords for leave to appeal.