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UK: MS patient who grew cannabis to ease her pain is acquitted on drug charges

Andrew Ellson

The Times

Monday 06 Jan 2020

Cannabis plants were seized from Lesley Gibson’s garden after she was refused the drug on the NHS. She is now paying for a private prescription

A multiple sclerosis patient who was facing jail for growing cannabis to ease her pain was acquitted today after the case against her collapsed.

Lesley Gibson, 55, and her husband, Mark, received not guilty verdicts at Carlisle Crown Court after being charged for possession and cultivation of the class B drug.

Their home was raided in January last year with police confiscating ten baby cannabis plants and three home-made cannabis chocolate bars. If convicted the pair faced up to five years in prison or an unlimited fine or both.

Medical cannabis has been legal in Britain for more than a year but only under strict conditions. The difficulty of obtaining an NHS prescription means tens of thousands of patients are still using the black market to get the drug.

The MS Society estimates that 10,000 MS patients use cannabis to alleviate muscle spasticity and pain but campaigners say only a handful have so far been prescribed the drug legally.

Two months ago, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) approved a cannabis-based treatment for MS called Sativex but the NHS will only offer it to those with “moderate to severe” spasticity which has not improved while taking other treatments.

Even then, prescriptions are still at the discretion of each local NHS authority.

Patients who can afford to pay for a consultation and private prescription can obtain the drug without such constraints.

The Crown Prosecution Service decided there was no public interest in proceeding with the case after it emerged that Ms Gibson had recently obtained a private prescription for the drug.

She told The Times that she had repeatedly been denied an NHS prescription but is now using her credit card to pay £700 a month for a supply of medical cannabis.

“I am dumbfounded at what has happened to me,” she said. “I’ve never hurt a living thing, I never even had a detention at school, so to find myself dragged through the courts because of having MS seems so cruel. It is not a lifestyle I have chosen. When the police raided my house in front of my granddaughter I was horrified. It made me despair of the logic of the law.

“I don’t want other patients to suffer the same. I hope the CPS will see sense and stop prosecuting patients.”

Campaigners said the acquittal does not set a precedent but that the case highlights the lack of public interest in prosecuting patients who use medicinal cannabis.

Ms Gibson’s legal team intends to ask the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to review its prosecution policy in cases involving people using cannabis to treat illnesses.

Rob Wilson, of the Conservative Drug Policy Reform Group, said: “We supported Lesley’s case from the outset because her prosecution highlighted a very significant injustice. Like so many of the 1.4 million people in the UK who seek medical relief from cannabis, here was someone who wanted to be supplied with a legal medicine on the NHS but could not get it and could not afford the cost of a private prescription. Anyone in need of the medical cannabis would probably have taken similar steps to stay well but the law in this area has become messy and a postcode lottery.

“The DPP and CPS need to work with the government to look at this in detail and take action so that safe and easy legal access to medical cannabis is available for patients. While today’s acquittal does not set a legal precedent, it certainly demonstrates the pain and distress inflicted on families by the legal system and the NHS’s failure to respond to legalisation of medical cannabis.”

Ms Gibson’s solicitor Tayab Ali added: “It can’t be right to prosecute a person who has no choice other than to use medicinal cannabis.

“As it remains a criminal offence to cultivate cannabis for medical use, the law needs to be reviewed so that we no longer put seriously ill people through the humiliation and trauma of a police raid, arrest and prosecution only for the prosecution to be later halted because it is, so obviously, not in the public interest to continue it. The law clearly needs to change.”




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