Mother's stand-off with British authorities over medicinal cannabis stirs debate

LONDON, June 11 (Reuters) - The mother of an epileptic boy who journeyed to Canada to buy cannabis-based medication she says is keeping her son alive had her supplies confiscated by British customs officials upon her return on Monday.

The case has ignited a debate about the medicinal use of cannabis, a drug which is illegal in Britain and which the British authorities do not recognize as having any medicinal benefits.

Billy Caldwell, 12, had been receiving medicinal cannabis oil on prescription by his doctor for just over a year, but supplies ran out after the Home Office (interior ministry) ordered the doctor to stop prescribing it.

Billy's mother, Charlotte Caldwell, says that without the cannabis oil her son has up to 100 seizures a day, each of which is potentially fatal.

The mother and son, who live in the British province of Northern Ireland, flew to Canada over the weekend to get some more of the medication, but it was seized when they arrived at London's Heathrow Airport on Monday morning.

Photos of the family:

"I’m just going to turn around and go get some more, and keep doing so until the UK authorities see sense," Charlotte Caldwell said in a statement. "I take the view that I’d rather have my son illegally alive than legally dead. This is the scenario that the phrase ‘no brainer’ was invented for.”

The Home Office said it was sympathetic to what it called the difficult and rare situation of Billy Caldwell and his family, but the border force had a duty to stop banned substances from entering Britain.

Under British law, cannabis is listed as a schedule 1 drug, meaning that it is not recognized as having a therapeutic value. Schedule 1 drugs can be used for research purposes and clinical trials, but only under a Home Office license.

The Home Office invited Charlotte Caldwell to meet Nick Hurd, a junior minister in charge of policing, to discuss the issue.

Caldwell has received support from Dan Poulter, a member of parliament from the ruling Conservative Party.

"The current law is ridiculous; there is growing evidence that cannabis products used medically can be helpful in treating a number of conditions, but yet it is still seen through the prism of illegality here in the UK," Poulter was quoted as saying in a statement from Caldwell's representatives.

"It is simply inhumane that Billy's medication, which is legal in many other countries across the world, has been confiscated." (Reporting by Estelle Shirbon Editing by Mark Heinrich)