Scots should be allowed to use cannabis to help relieve chronic conditions without fear of prosecution, the SNP conference agreed yesterday.
As The Sunday Times revealed last week, Nicola Sturgeon is supportive of the idea of medical use of the class B drug being decriminalised and wants responsibility for drugs policy to be devolved to the Scottish parliament. At present possession and supply of cannabis can lead to a term in prison.
Yesterday party members at the autumn conference in Glasgow lent their support to those aims too, after hearing from multiple sclerosis (MS) sufferer Laura Brennan-Whitefield, who backs the lawful use of cannabis for pain relief.
Speaking ahead of the vote, Brennan-Whitefield asked fellow SNP supporters to show “compassion and common sense”.
She said: “I have been living with multiple sclerosis for nine years and the fact that I’m standing here giving this speech means I am one of the lucky ones.
“It has become clear to me over these last nine years that many people living with MS have been using cannabis to help with the symptoms of that condition. In fact it’s one of the worst-kept secrets at the hospital. All of these people risk a criminal record, unlike in Australia, Chile, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Romania and some US states.”
But while the resolution was supported by a majority of delegates, SNP councillor Audrey Doig spoke out against the idea, warning that her cousin had started using cannabis to relieve pain before moving on to harder drugs.
“I had a cousin who died a number of years ago in Canada. He started taking cannabis because he was having pain when he was playing ice hockey, and his mates in ice hockey did the same,” she said.
“Unfortunately my cousin had an addictive personality, and when the pain wasn’t relieved by taking cannabis he went on to taking stronger drugs.”
Doig said better alternatives included keep-fit programmes. “That is the way to go. Stop all these pain medications, go to fitness regimes. The doctors are trying it out now, and it’s working. It’s working for heart patients, it’s working for angina, and it’s working for MS patients too.”
Legalising its use for medicinal purposes would put Scotland in line with at least 11 other European countries and 24 US states where people can use cannabis to alleviate chronic pain and other symptoms.
However, it remains a controversial issue in this country, with politicians keen to avoid being portrayed as being soft on drugs. Last month a cross-party group of MPs and peers chaired by Lady Meacher concluded that cannabis should be made legal for medical uses, and called on the UK government to decriminalise the growing of small amounts at home for the same purposes.
It took evidence from more than 600 patients and medical professionals, and found “good evidence” that cannabis can help with chronic pain, muscle spasms associated with MS, managing anxiety, and nausea and vomiting, especially when caused as a side effect of chemotherapy.
The inquiry heard that 30,000 people in the UK use cannabis as a medicine even though it is illegal.