Are illicit drugs ever allowed for medical treatment?

by ContactLaw on November 25, 2011

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Most of the regulations relating to illicit drugs are covered by the the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, the Misuse of Drugs regulations made under the Act (1985), and the Medicines Act 1968. Various illicit drugs are divided into categories (Classes A, B and C), and each different class has different penalties. A criminal law solicitor can give you more details of the specific drugs that are contained in these categories.

However, many of these illicit drugs have medicinal use. This issue is dealt with by the Schedules of the 1985 Regulations. Schedules 2 and 3 contain lists of drugs that are available for medical use and can be prescribed by doctors. This means that certain drugs are no longer illegal provided they have been prescribed by a doctor. It is important to appreciate this point. Some illicit drugs are still illegal to own if you have not obtained them via a prescription. A lawyer can outline how the law would affect you if the police found these drugs in your possession.

Schedule 2 drugs include amphetamines, cocaine, methadone, morphine and opium (in medicinal form). Schedule 4 contains further lists and deals with more drugs that are legal provided they are prescribed, as well as anabolic steroids which can be legally possessed in medicinal forms without a prescription but cannot be applied to other people. Schedule 5 deals with drugs that are extremely low risk, and include certain cough medicines and painkillers. Such drugs can be purchased without a prescription but cannot be supplied to another individual. The term ‘supply’ is important to understand, as possession with intent to supply is a criminal offence. Your criminal solicitor can give you more advice about this definition and how it could impact on your case.

In practice the legislation is extremely complicated. By way of an example, there have recently been a number of high-profile cases involving the prosecution of therapeutic users of cannabis. Although in some cases the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has prosecuted, in other cases juries have acquitted individuals using cannabis for therapeutic reasons. Today in the United Kingdom, medical use of cannabis itself is illegal  but quite widespread. According to the BMA report, “many normally law-abiding citizens—probably many thousands in the developed world” use cannabis illegally for therapy. Your solicitor can outline the precise laws that govern how cannabis can be used in a medical context. In all other scenarios, possession and use of cannabis is illegal. Legal advice should be sought if you are caught using or in posession of cannabis.

In summary, it is clear that most restricted drugs are allowed for medical treatment only if prescribed by a doctor with a licence, and cannot be sold on to anyone else. However, the laws relating to drug use for medical treatment is subject to much debate and is often regarded as one of the most restrictive in the world when compared to countries with a more liberal regime such as the Netherlands, Italy, Spain and certain states in the USA.

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