Ruling

Resolution Statement – 18579-23 Reynolds v The Scottish Sun

    • Date complaint received

      28th September 2023

    • Outcome

      Resolved - IPSO mediation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Resolution Statement – 18579-23 Reynolds v The Scottish Sun


Summary of Complaint

1. Peter Reynolds complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Scottish Sun breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “GREEN LIGHT Is medical cannabis legal in the UK?”, published on 23 May 2023.

2. The article reported “Cannabis is legal in the UK — but only if you’ve had it prescribed for medicinal purposes” and “medical cannabis is a broad term for using any form of the drug to relieve symptoms of an illness or condition”. The article further reported “not all medical uses of cannabis are legal, and only a few forms of the drug are allowed to be taken on prescription” and “medical cannabis is only legal if you have an NHS prescription”.

3. The complainant said the article was inaccurate as he believed that a specialist doctor could prescribe cannabis produced for medical use. The complainant also said that most cannabis prescriptions were given through the NHS and around 25,000 people received regular cannabis prescriptions through private healthcare. The complainant added there were no legal restrictions on which conditions or forms qualify for the prescription privately or through the NHS. He said the judgement of whether a patient could have medical cannabis was determined by a doctor. The complainant stated that NICE produced guidelines that specified three conditions the NHS would fund but noted this did not affect the prescribing rights of a specialist doctor. The complainant also believed that cannabis could be prescribed privately for several conditions. The complainant lastly said that the article overall was misleading as it omitted to mention cannabis could be easily obtained for any condition by online consultation. He said that this could be done at approximately 25 clinics and would cost roughly a few hundred pounds per month.

4. The publication did not accept a breach of Clause 1 as it said the claim a specialist doctor could prescribe cannabis for any condition was incorrect. The publication stated that the conditions for which cannabis could be prescribed were limited to three conditions on the NHS: children and adults with rare, severe forms of epilepsy; adults with vomiting or nausea caused by chemotherapy; and people with muscle stiffness and spasms caused by multiple sclerosis. It added that there were a few dozen conditions in which cannabis could be prescribed on private prescription. Further to this, the publication added the drug could only be prescribed in the three forms mentioned in the article on the NHS. The publication said physicians may offer only licensed "cannabis-based product for medicinal use" (CBPM) privately. The publication also said while it was technically correct that there were no legal restrictions on the prescribing of medical cannabis, reputable doctors in the UK only prescribed cannabis for the conditions designated by NICE as suitable for the drug. The publication also amended “medical cannabis [wa]s only legal if you ha[d] an NHS prescription” prior to receiving the complaint. It added a footnote to highlight this and explain the amendment.

6. Upon receipt of the complaint from IPSO, the publication offered to publish the following amended wording within the content of the article and a correction, as a footnote to the article:

Only a limited number of conditions are listed as appropriate for medical cannabis by National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidelines.

“This article, now amended, previously stated that not all medical uses of cannabis are legal, and that the drug is only legally available via an NHS prescription. In fact, medical cannabis is available privately as well as on the NHS. While all medical uses of cannabis are technically legal in the UK, in practice reputable doctors prescribe it according to the conditions set out as being appropriate for its use by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence”.

13. The complainant said the footnote correction wording would not resolve his complaint and that any correction should be prominent and should preferably be published on the front page.

Relevant Clause Provisions

Clause 1 (Accuracy)

i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.

ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and — where appropriate — an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator. 

iii) A fair opportunity to reply to significant inaccuracies should be given, when reasonably called for.

iv) The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.

Mediated Outcome

14. The complaint was not resolved through direct correspondence between the parties. IPSO therefore began an investigation into the matter.

15. During IPSO’s investigation the publication offered to amend the wording within the content of the article and add the following correction to the footnote of the online article:

Only a limited number of conditions are listed as appropriate for medical cannabis by National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidelines.

“This article, now amended, previously stated that not all medical uses of cannabis are legal, and that the drug is only legally available via an NHS prescription. In fact, nearly all medical cannabis prescriptions to date have been issued through one of about 20 private clinics, most of which operate online as well as in person. Doctors at these clinics, who are on the specialist register of the GMC, can prescribe cannabis for any condition they consider appropriate.”

16. The complainant accepted this as a resolution to his complaint.

17. As the complaint was successfully mediated, the Complaints Committee did not make a determination as to whether there had been any breach of the Code.


Date complaint received: 25/05/2023

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 07/09/2023