More than one million medical cannabis users currently residing in the UK may be eligible for an ID card that protects them from police prosecution.
This is huge news for medical cannabis users, especially under a UK government that’s historically been very conservative about cannabis use, both medicinally and recreationally.
Sounds too good to be true, right? Let’s find out more.
Everything you need to know at a glance:
Cancard will be rolled out on November 1st — however, patients can express their interest from September 9th.
It’s the brainchild of cannabis reform activist Carly Barton who uses cannabis to help treat nerve pain as a result of a stroke at 24.
She believes since medical cannabis was legalized in 2018, there is an imbalance between those who can afford prescriptions and those who can’t — this was (and is) the core inspiration behind Cancard.
Those who can’t afford a prescription (but are eligible for it) purchase cannabis illegally, which takes a toll on the users’ mental health. Cancard protects these users from prosecution.
The card is backed by many MPs, police chiefs/organizations, and medical cannabis users.
This card does not mean UK cannabis laws have changed. Cannabis is still a Class B drug.
What is Cancard and is it available now?
The card is called Cancard and is expected to be rolled out on November 1, 2020. Patients can express their interest from September 9, 2020.
Who is the mastermind behind Cancard?
Cancard is the brainchild of UK cannabis reform advocate Carly Barton, an individual who knows all too well the hardships Britons face when treating specific conditions with cannabis.
She, like many others, uses cannabis to treat a chronic, oftentimes debilitating health condition — in her case, constant nerve pain after suffering a stroke at the young age of 24.
In a short but candid interview with VICE, Barton opens up about the difficulties she and many like her experience treating chronic conditions with medical cannabis after it was legalized in 2018.
“Two years on from the law change around access to medicinal cannabis, we are still very much seeing a two-tier system in the UK.”
Those affluent enough to afford a private prescription are able to buy themselves immunity from prosecution, while people who legally qualify, but can’t sustain the costs, are at risk of criminalization for consuming the same medicine for the same condition.
The legalization of medical cannabis in the UK came about when news broke out of two children being treated with cannabis due to severe epilepsy. The news spread across the UK, which prompted—or, rather, pressured—government officials to take action and find a resolution.
Unfortunately, as Barton rightly pointed out, access to medical cannabis has only been widely available in costly private clinics — NHS treatment is borderline non-existent, making it harder for lower-income patients to gain access to it.
As a result, many patients illegally search for other ways of obtaining cannabis, mostly out of desperation, which has resulted in fear, paranoia, and anxiety over being caught and prosecuted.
Barton and her Cancard initiative look to change this and level the playing field for everyone.
Who is backing Cancards?
A number of prominent police officials, MPs, and cannabis reform advocates have backed this initiative.
Mr. Blunt said: “Despite the law change in November 2018, very few of the estimated 1.4 million people in the UK who consume cannabis for medical reasons have a prescription and face prosecution for treating their illness”.
“This is a wretched situation for patients who constantly fear a knock on the door from the police.”
“The Cancard initiative is a welcome step forward that provides necessary immediate relief and I look forward to even further progress to ensure this medicine is legally available to all who need it.”
Martyn Underhill, the highly-decorated Police and Crime Commissioner for Dorset, believes the main problem lies in the price of private medical cannabis, which many cannot afford despite being eligible, leaving them no choice but to access marijuana in other, less legal ways.
Cancard will provide them with an assurance that their ill health will not lead to a criminal record…it will also be a valuable tool for frontline officers, saving them time by providing immediate verification of genuine medical patients.
Martyn Underhill’s position has been backed by Jason Harwin, Deputy Chief Constable at Lincolnshire Police and National Police Chief Council Lead for Drugs.
He added: “the police service finds itself stuck in the middle of a situation where individuals should legitimately be accessing their prescribed medication, but, because of availability and cost they can’t and therefore to address their illness rely on having to use illicit cannabis.”
“This cannot be acceptable and places the service in a position where we could be criminalizing someone because of their illness.”
The Police Federation of England and Wales and the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) also back Barton’s plan.
A Cancard is not a shield from UK law
A Cancard is not a shield from the law. The card simply identifies medical cannabis patients and proves to police officers that the cannabis in the patient’s possession is above-board. It also identifies people who are legally entitled to a medical cannabis prescription but are unable to afford one.
In most cases, simple possession won’t go to court. If it does, the card comes attached with a stop and search guide, resources for the cardholder’s solicitor, an outline for a legal defense framework, and an anonymous self-reporting tool to help the cardholder describe the police involvement prior to the legal review in court.
Again, this card does not make a medical cannabis patient above the law; it just gives them a helping hand.
Cancards also aren’t free for everyone. There is a small admin fee for those who are able to afford it. Anyone on welfare benefits is exempt from paying the fee. The only cost is the postage and packaging.
The current legal status of medical cannabis in the UK
Medical cannabis in the UK was legalized in November 2018 following the cases of two children with severe epilepsy. Since then, specialist doctors and practitioners have been able to prescribe cannabis medicines to patients with varying conditions.
This doesn’t mean cannabis is legal for everyone, however. It’s still a Class B drug. Anyone selling, distributing, or possessing cannabis can be prosecuted under UK law.
Punishment for possession is up to 5 years in prison or an unlimited fine (or both). Punishment for supply and production carries a maximum of 14 years in prison and an unlimited fine (or both).
What this means for UK medical cannabis users in the future
Cancard is one of the first major steps toward cannabis decriminalization in the UK — a very exciting prospect for all eligible patients unable to attain medical cannabis through the legal channels.
Patients with varying illnesses, as well as police officers, can breathe a slight sigh of relief. No more unnecessary arrests and prosecutions.
It’s also a very exciting prospect for the entire cannabis industry as a whole.
If MPs, police chiefs, and cannabis activists can work together at this level, who knows what might be on the horizon?