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Medical Cannabis Cards Launched in UK to Help Thousands Avoid Arrest

By Leo Bear-McGuinness

Published: Nov 30, 2020   
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Medical cannabis has been legal in the UK for the last two years, but it hasn’t been easy to come by.

According to one study published this June, only 12 prescriptions have been issued through the county’s National Health Service (NHS) and fewer than 50 had been given from private clinics.

Frustrated with the apparent reticence of the NHS and the high prices of the private sector, many would-be patients have sourced their cannabis illicitly for self-medication. But this clandestine solution has its risks. Without a prescription, cannabis possession can still be considered a criminal act, and one that could incur police action.

Fortunately for any medical cannabis consumer worried about such penalties, a new defense is now available: a Cancard.

Created by medical cannabis campaigners, and backed by several police chiefs, the initiative aims to save thousands from being arrested and prosecuted for cannabis possession.

Can I see your ID?

To receive a Cancard, an individual must live with one of the medical conditions listed by the initiative, which include key gastrointestinal issues, such as Crohn’s disease, psychiatric disorders, such as PTSD, and chronic pain conditions. Evidence for this medical condition, such as a patient’s “summary of care” report from their doctor’s surgery, must then be submitted.

According to the team behind the new scheme, up to 1.1 million people in the UK could be eligible for a Cancard before 2021.

“Cancard should give patients peace of mind and police confidence in using their discretion before any stress has been caused to vulnerable people,” Carly Barton, medical cannabis campaigner and founder of Cancard, said in a statement.

If questioned about their cannabis use by a police officer, a Cancard holder will also have access to a free legal helpline provided by a London-based solicitors firm. Although the initiative hopes to avoid these kinds of confrontations through its consultations with several policing organizations, including the Police Federation, the National Police Chiefs Council, and the Superintendents Association.

“Without a law change, we have national guidance and discretion with which to build a solution, both of which are huge parts of the design of Cancard,” Barton continued. “Having the police on-board with the design and implementation of this has been essential to make this a plausible project.”

“The Cancard will provide [holders] with assurance that their ill health will not lead to a criminal record,” Martyn Underhill, the police and crime commissioner for Dorset, said in a statement. “It will also be a valuable tool to help frontline officers, saving them time by providing immediate verification of genuine medical patients and therefore giving them confidence to use their discretion.”

Two years on

While the Cancard project could help thousands avoid arrest for their possessing their medication, it can’t help them replenish it. And this issue of legal cannabis access still persists in the UK, two years on from the legalization of medical cannabis.

Two cannabis-based medicines, Epidiolex and Sativex, were approved for use by the NHS in England last November, after the issuance of new guidelines from the drugs advisory body the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.

The UK government also modified import restrictions this March to allow UK companies to order and hold more medical cannabis from abroad.

But, according to many campaigners, neither of these measures made much impact on increasing prescription rates or bringing down their costs.

“We have seen a child in intensive care because her mother could no longer pay for her treatment,” Hannah Deacon, a medical cannabis campaigner, wrote in an open letter to the UK’s home secretary this June. “Only due to an exceedingly kind donation can she carry on the treatment for a few more months and has managed to get her child home and safe for now.”

Although, there have been more recent indications that some medical cannabis prescriptions are becoming more affordable. In October, Sapphire Medical Clinics, the first UK cannabis clinic to register with the country’s Care Quality Commission, announced that some of its products were available for less than £5 (US $6.67) per day

“It is very welcome to see UK-produced medical cannabis products finally available to patients that meet the high regulatory standards and consistent availability that we expect,” Carl Holvey, Sapphire Clinics’ chief pharmacist, said in a statement at the time.

“Patients that resort to sourcing cannabis illicitly face more than just the legalities of self-medicating, but also the unknown strength, contaminants, and unpredictability of this way of medicating.”


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