Charlotte Caldwell became a household name in the United Kingdom during her fight to get her son the cannabis medicine he needed to treat symptoms of his epilepsy.
When she and her son, Billy, 12, landed at Heathrow Airport from Toronto on June 11, 2018, customs agents confiscated the medicinal cannabis oil she was carrying to treat Billy’s epilepsy. Caldwell walked straight down the hall and gave a press conference. She hasn’t stopped since.
“It changed everything,” Caldwell’s media adviser, Steve Moore, told Marijuana.com. “Who knew that a 12-year old boy passing through Heathrow would create one of the biggest media stirs in the UK since Brexit.”
Moore described how TV cameras and reporters huddled around Charlotte, who said she was “absolutely horrified” that the British Home Office, which oversees visas, immigration, and law enforcement, would order customs agents to take away the oil keeping her son alive. She swore she’d fight to get it back not just for Billy, but for the rest of the families in need.
Mother Charlotte Caldwell “absolutely horrified” as customs officers at Heathrow Airport confiscate cannabis oil she uses to treat her son’s epilepsy pic.twitter.com/qWONj5h7jC
— Sky News (@SkyNews) June 11, 2018
The following day, after a sleepless night in a London hotel, Charlotte went straight to the Home Office where officials told her nothing could be done to return Billy’s CBD. After missing his first dose in more than a year, Billy had a seizure and was rushed to Chelsea and Westminster hospital.
“They gave him rescue medication and oxygen, but it didn’t stop the seizures. The hospital staff and doctors were appalled that Billy’s medication was abruptly stopped. Normal medical protocol is to wean off, but the Minister of the Crown just stopped my little boy’s medication,” Caldwell told Marijuana.com.
Charlotte, from County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, explained that Billy was having up to 100 seizures a day when in April 2017 he became the first person in the United Kingdom to be prescribed cannabis oil by the National Health Service.
Then, a year later, on May 20, 2018, the British Home Office told Billy’s doctor that he could no longer prescribe cannabis. That’s when Caldwell and Billy traveled to Toronto.
“All mothers of children with this brutal disease know that one seizure can kill them…you just don’t know when that one will occur,” Caldwell said. “I knew I’d lose him if I didn’t do something.”
While in the hospital, Billy’s seizures continued.
Photos of his wracked body splashed across the front pages of British newspapers and beamed on TV screens. Collective anguish and anger at the government was mounting.
When a taxi appeared at the hospital, a messenger from the Home Office got out, found Caldwell and returned a 20-supply of Billy’s medicine to her, with instructions that it had to be used only in the hospital.
“I was over the moon even though I’m still angry that he had to go through such a horrible time,” Caldwell said. “Someone in the Home Office has a heart.”
That person is Home Secretary Sajid Javid.
Javid, the son of a Pakistani bus driver, had clashed days earlier with Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May in a Cabinet meeting when she blocked a discussion about medicinal cannabis, arguing that it wasn’t on the agenda.
“Once the news broke [on June 16]that he’d sent Billy’s medication to the hospital, Javid’s chances of becoming the next prime minister went through the roof,” Moore said. “That was the Berlin Wall moment for UK drug policy.”
But the news didn’t stop there.
On June 27, the British Home Office, under Javid, announced that it had set up a panel of experts and was accepting applications for medicinal cannabis licenses from senior clinicians.
Caldwell, still living in the hospital with Billy, said she’s trying to be optimistic about the panel, but realizes there are almost no doctors in the UK with knowledge of medicinal cannabis.
“Let’s hope the speed shown by the Home Office is matched by the Health Secretary and they start training doctors soon,” she said. “I’m almost out of Billy’s medicine.”