THEY say that to see the future, you should go to California. So when the Golden State legalised medical cannabis in 1996, we should have seen what was coming.
Sure enough, where California led, others followed. Today more than half the citizens of the US have legal access to medical cannabis of one form or another, as do those of a further 44 countries. The United Nations recently convened a special meeting to assess the state of knowledge on medical cannabis, the first time it has ever looked at the drug since blanket prohibition almost six decades ago. As a report on the health effects of cannabis published in 2017 by the US National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine concluded, “this is a pivotal time in the world of cannabis policy and research”.
The UK is the latest front line, with public controversy leading to a review of strict prohibition, and the likelihood that the country will join the list of those allowing the medical use of cannabis in some form. Whether that is a good idea is hard to call, not least because the term “medical cannabis” covers a multitude of possibilities. At one end are freewheeling US states like California and Colorado, where it is all but indistinguishable from recreational use. At the other are tightly controlled systems that closely resemble mainstream medicine. Both have their pros and cons. So if you are going to design a system of legalized medical cannabis, what should it look like?