...using Cannabis on the Cobbles
Coronation Street’s Izzy Armstrong has featured in a major storyline over the last 6 months, which has seen her turn to cannabis usage to self-medicate her chronic pain.
On the show Izzy suffers from Ehlers–Danlos Syndrome, which is a rare connective tissue disorder. The actress who plays her – Cherylee Houston – suffers from this disabling condition herself.
With the story taking a dramatic turn – Izzy has been sentenced to two months in prison for cannabis possession – the question of the legality of medical cannabis has been placed back into the public arena.
Current law on Cannabis and its medical application
In UK law, cannabis is classified as a Class B drug; as such anyone found possessing cannabis can be given a maximum prison sentence of five years.
Police do have the power to issue warnings and on the spot fines for cannabis possession, with this power mainly being wielded in cases of small amounts of cannabis found for personal use.
If found with larger quantities, a suspect could be charged with supply and production of cannabis, which holds a maximum prison sentence of 14 years.
Izzy’s storyline in Coronation Street has invigorated a long-standing debate on the use of medical cannabis (Savitex) in the UK, with prescriptions of the drug given to treat certain symptoms for people diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS).
Using Cannabis for relief from chronic pain
If an individual who suffers from chronic pain is caught possessing cannabis then it could be argued that consideration of mitigating circumstances could be made and some concession could be granted.
As possession of cannabis is illegal in UK law, the bottom line is that there is always a risk of a custodial sentence.
In some instances, it’s been successfully argued that a suspect’s cannabis usage is for relief from chronic pain, with a more lenient sentence being applied, but this is far from guaranteed.
Izzy’s case has even been referenced in court, with one Judge Recorder Isaac referring to the soap storyline in a case at Leeds Combine Court.
Judge Recorder Isaac mentioned Izzy’s circumstances when sentencing a cannabis user who had supplied a letter from his GP to describe his chronic pain – which was a symptom of his chronic arthritis – the defendant was given a conditional discharge.
Has the storyline portrayed a fair representation of both sides of the story?
Viewers of the soap have seen the agony and distress Izzy has suffered from crippling pain, as well as the benefits of pain relief afforded by cannabis usage.
On the other hand, the show has exposed the dangerous nature of cannabis use, as one episode saw Izzy purchase a bad batch of so called ‘super weed’. This super strong dose resulted in disturbing effects and another character, Anna Windass, had to look after Izzy’s son until the harmful effects wore off.
Izzy’s bad dose highlighted two sides of the legalisation argument, as it showed how much of a health hazard some strains of the drug can be, while also strengthening the point that legalised cannabis would be regulated, and therefore safer than illegal strains currently on the market.
As well as the debate over the legalisation of cannabis for medical usage, Izzy’s story has dealt with the tricky issue of the relationship between employer and employee in complicated scenarios such as these.
We have seen Izzy – who works as a machinist in the Underworld Factory – having a chat with her boss, Johnny, about her cannabis habit.
Johnny agreed to turn a blind eye to the habit on Izzy’s assurance that she only used cannabis outside of work and that it would not affect her work.
Melanie Burden explains how her employer’s attitude, and the treatment of chronic pain by Izzy’s GP, raises further questions about the use of medicinal cannabis:
“Izzy’s employer has seemingly not given regard to Health and Safety laws, as – in light of her disclosure – he has a duty to perform a new risk assessment on Izzy’s ability to operate machinery at work.
“It is likely that more will come from the employment aspect of this story when Johnny becomes aware of her prison sentence and Izzy is desperately worried she will lose her job.
“Another angle introduced by the storyline is childcare, as the issue of raising a child whilst using cannabis has already been introduced – again, there will no doubt be more to come on this aspect of the story after Izzy’s sentence.
“It does seem a shame that so far we have only heard second hand about Izzy’s conversation with her GP about pain relief.
“The story hasn’t really explained all the other pain relief options that could be explored and to provide some balance on this point it would help to show Izzy being referred to an NHS Pain Management Centre, which can provider safer, legal alternative to those suffering from chronic pain.”
Written by Melanie Burden
For more information on personal injury, chronic pain and the services offered by Simpson Millar, please call
0808 129 3304