From 1 November doctors will be able to prescribe medicinal cannabis to patients in the UK, the Home Secretary has announced.
The new rule will come into force across England, Scotland and Wales, while the Department of Health in Northern Ireland has also announced it is taking measures to enable patients to be prescribed cannabis-based medicinal products without a licence.
The change is also set to come into force in Northern Ireland on 1 November.
In a statement, the department said it has worked alongside the Home Office, the Department of Health and Social Care, and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency to develop additional frameworks and clinical guidelines to ensure that cannabis-based medicinal products can be prescribed safely and effectively to patients, while at the same time ensuring they are not misused.
The penalties for unauthorised supply and possession will remain unchanged.
Available only to prescribed patients
In a written statement to Parliament, Home Secretary Sajid David said: “I have been clear that my intention was always to ensure that patients have access to the most appropriate course of medical treatment.
“I stressed the importance of acting swiftly to ensure that, where medically appropriate, these products could be available to be prescribed to patients.
“I have been clear that this should be achieved at the earliest opportunity whilst ensuring that the appropriate safeguards were in place to minimise the risks of misuse and diversion.”
The statement also ruled out cannabis being legalised for recreational use.
David added: “I have been consistently clear that I have no intention of legalising the recreational use of cannabis.
“To take account of the particular risk of misuse of cannabis by smoking and the operational impacts on enforcement agencies, the 2018 Regulations continue to prohibit smoking of cannabis, including of cannabis-based products, for medicinal use in humans. “
Tens of thousands in need of help
The landmark ruling comes after a number of high profile cases, such as those involving the children Alfie Dingley and Billy Caldwell, saw children being denied cannabis oil, which appears to help with managing epileptic seizures.
The new announcement has been been strongly welcomed by campaigners, charities, experts and families.
Mother of Alfie Dingley, Hannah Deacon, said: “Today is a momentous day for every patient and family with a suffering child who wish to access medicinal cannabis.
“We urge the medical world to get behind these reforms so they can help the tens of thousands of people who are in urgent need of help.
“I have personally seen how my son’s life has changed due to the medical cannabis he is now prescribed.
“As a family we were facing his death. Now we are facing his life, full of joy and hope which is something I wish for each and every person in this country who could benefit from this medicine.”
Long term review needed
The Home Secretary added: “These regulations are not an end in themselves. The ACMD will be conducting a long-term review of cannabis and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has been commissioned to provide advice for clinicians by October next year.
“The Government will monitor the impact of the policy closely as the evidence-base develops and review when the ACMD provides its final advice.”