Medical cannabis is an “industry of the future” with the potential of creating thousands of jobs in rural areas if properly supported by the Government, a Tory former cabinet minister has said.
David Mundell urged ministers to have a “much more coordinated and focused approach” when it comes to supporting the medical cannabis sector, which he described as “huge” and “growing”.
In an interview with the PA news agency, the Tory MP said he is not “advocating for legalisation of recreational use”, but simply wants to highlight “the opportunities that flow from the growing and manufacturing of medical cannabis-related products”.
However, according to the NHS, very few people are likely to get a prescription for medical cannabis.
Currently, it is likely to be prescribed only for children and adults with rare, severe forms of epilepsy, adults with vomiting or nausea caused by chemotherapy and people with muscle stiffness and spasms caused by multiple sclerosis, but it would be considered only when other treatments were not suitable or had not helped.
Speaking ahead of leading a Westminster Hall debate on the issue on Thursday, Mr Mundell (Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale) said: “I have the development of a large medical cannabis facility in my constituency.
“It is called Hilltop Leaf and I wanted to highlight the fact that this is a huge industry, a growing industry, an industry of the future because medical cannabis isn’t just legal here in the UK. It’s legal in many parts of the world and it’s a great opportunity for the UK to be at the forefront of this industry.
“But unfortunately, we just make it very difficult.”
“But also, we have to get through the logjam in relation to prescriptions.”
Mr Mundell pointed to the “very few NHS prescriptions”, adding: “It’s not something that you would necessarily get a prescription from your GP. It’s like a cancer drug, you would go to see a specialist and then they would prescribe it and then your GP would give you repeat prescriptions.”
The Tory MP insisted “there has to be a lot more work with GPs to give GPs confidence themselves to prescribe it in certain circumstances”, adding: “We have cancer centres of excellence, where we have consultants with expertise in the use of cancer drugs. We essentially have to have consultants who are experts in the use of medical cannabis.
“So there are structural issues in the health service that need to be overcome.”
Pressed further on the economic benefits that would flow from better supporting the sector, Mr Mundell reiterated the main one would be the “creation of thousands of jobs”, particularly in “rural areas where there is not the equivalent level of professional jobs”.
“And I actually think one of the problems for the industry is people still associating it with recreational cannabis.
“There are conflicting views on that, whereas there is a sort of universal support as far as I can see in relation to medical use.
“This is about the opportunities that flow from growing and manufacturing medical cannabis related-products.”
Responding to the Westminster Hall debate, health minister Will Quince said he is committed to “galvanising research in this area”, as it is “key to unlocking so much of this debate and the prospect of a future where more licensed cannabis-based products that are proven safe and effective can be prescribed on our NHS”.
“However, and I want to labour this point, progress is being made.”
Nick Morland, chief executive of Tenacious Labs and secretariat to the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Industrial Hemp and CBD Products, said Mr Mundell’s call for a “more coordinated and focused approach” is “both timely and important”.
He added: “We urge the Government to take a more proactive role in supporting this sector, by investing in research and development, improving access to prescriptions, and providing greater clarity around regulatory frameworks.
“The UK can position itself as a global leader in this critically important field. Now’s the time to change the law, or we will miss this opportunity.”