The mother of a child who has up to 100 epileptic fits a day has had potentially life-saving cannabis oil confiscated from her by customs officers at Heathrow airport after trying to “openly smuggle” the substance into the UK.
Charlotte Caldwell was not cautioned when she was stopped after a flight from Toronto, Canada, and has vowed to obtain more cannabis oil to help her 12-year-old son, Billy, for whom she says it has proved to be an effective treatment.
Last year Billy became the first child to be prescribed medicinal cannabis oil on the NHS. He then reportedly went 250 days without a seizure. However, his GP was later ordered by the Home Office not to renew the prescription or face disbarment.
Caldwell said she feared that the cycle of fits “would eventually kill” Billy. She said she would meet the Home Office minister Nick Hurd on Monday afternoon to plead to get the oil back. She added that Billy was due his next dose at 3.30pm and warned of the dangers of missing his first treatment in 19 months.
Caldwell, from Castlederg in Co Tyrone, Northern Ireland, told reporters that the customs officers were “absolute gentlemen … really, really nice”. One had tears in his eyes as they took the drug from her, she said.
“I’ll just go back to Canada and I’ll get more and I’ll bring it back again,” she said. She described the contraband as “a small bottle of oil that’s keeping my son alive”.
Caldwell told a press conference: “It’s Billy’s anti-epileptic medication that Nick Hurd has taken away. It’s not some sort of joint full of recreational cannabis, it is his anti-epileptic medication that he has taken off me at the airport today.
“I will just go back to Canada and get more and I will bring it back again because my son has a right to have his anti-epileptic medication in his country, in his own home.
“We are not going to stop, we are not going to give up, we have love, hope, faith for our kids and we are going to continue.”
MPs and experts condemned the move and said it highlights the deep injustices people face due to what they say is Britain’s outdated drug policy.
“Rather than cracking down on parents who are trying to help alleviate the suffering of their children, we should be legislating according to the evidence and giving people the treatments they need,” said Caroline Lucas MP, the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on drug policy reform.
“There’s swathes of evidence to show that cannabis products can help treat epilepsy – and continuing to criminalise people for using it is both deeply cruel and an absurd waste of police resources.”
David Nutt, the former government chief drugs adviser who has advocated for the legalisation of medicinal cannabis, said Caldwell had proved cannabis oil effectively cured her child and could save his life.
“Cannabis is a medicine in 20 other countries and was a medicine in the UK until 1971,” he said. “Why not make it a medicine again.We have a politically, not medically, based cannabis policy in the UK and this is why people like Billy Caldwell have to go through this torture.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The Home Office is sympathetic to the difficult and rare situation that Billy and his family are faced with.
“Whilst we recognise that people with debilitating illnesses are looking to alleviate their symptoms, Border Force has a duty to stop banned substances from entering the UK.
“The policing minister will meet Ms Caldwell this afternoon.”
It emerged last year that the UK was the world’s largest producer and exporter of cannabis for medical and scientific use. The vast majority is exported to countries with more liberal laws on medicinal cannabis usage.
The World Health Organisation’s expert committee on drug dependence has committed to reviewing the scheduling of cannabis under the United Nation’s 1961 convention.