From today, eligible patients in the UK will be able to apply for the UK’s new medical cannabis card – Cancard.
The Cancard aims to protect those using self-sourced illegal cannabis for medicinal purposes from arrest. It was devised by medical cannabis patient Carly Barton and a team of senior police, and more than 15,000 people have already provisionally signed up.
Any patient that has a health condition for which they could receive a private medical cannabis prescription, but may not necessarily be able to afford it, will be eligible for the card, and police forces across the country will receive a briefing pack from the National Police Chiefs Council.
Chair of the Conservative Drug Policy Reform Group, MP Crispin 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 thus face prosecution for treating their illness. This is a wretched situation both for patients who constantly fear a knock on the door from the police and for the police themselves who are in the unenviable position of having to arrest the sick.
“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.”
Treating people as patients, not criminals
The card was devised by Barton, who is the first patient in the UK to receive a private medical cannabis prescription. She lives with chronic pain and seizure-like, dystonic episodes, and turned to the black market after she was no longer able to afford a private prescription. The card is the first initiative in the UK which gives police the tools and confidence to use their discretion for possession of an illegal substance, as well as the first to see a grassroots campaign collaborate on such a scale with law enforcement, health professionals, and policymakers.
Barton said: “We all know that cases, where patients have proved legitimate medicinal use, are unlikely to make it to court, and if they do these cases are consistently dropped. This is especially the case when a patient presents with a condition that is being privately prescribed for. There is currently no way of identifying these people before emotional distress has been caused and public resources have been wasted.
“There is an opportunity to provide something that changes this by way of providing a service that benefits both the patients and the police. Cancard should give patients peace of mind and police confidence in using their discretion before any stress has been caused to vulnerable people. 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. Having the police on board with the design and implementation of this has been essential to make this a plausible project.”
Any police officer that encounters a patient in possession of cannabis will be able to contact a policing helpline to help them verify the patient is genuine, and the card contains an RFID chip which officers will be able to scan to confirm patient ID. The card’s working group also extends to representatives from organisations such as the Police Federation, the National Police Chiefs Council, the Police Foundation, the Drug Expert Witness Board, the Superintendents Association, senior policing figures in organised crime, the Conservative Party Drug Reform Group, and GP networks.
GP, Dr Leon Barron, said: “Cancard ensures that these people do not have to suffer the additional burden of fear or anxiety of facing criminal charges for simply treating themselves with a medicine that they have found effective. Fortunately, there are now a growing number of GPs who are recognising the value of cannabis for therapeutic purposes and are supportive of their patients who choose this alternative treatment pathway.”
Martyn Underhill, Police and Crime Commissioner for Dorset, added: “More than a million patients in the UK qualify for a private cannabis prescription for a range of conditions, but sadly many of them cannot afford this and so could face criminalisation if they are found in possession of what to them is a vital medicine.
“The Cancard will provide them with assurance that their ill health will not lead to a criminal record, while 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.
“I want to praise Carly for her dedication and the collaborative work she has done with senior officers to get this important initiative off the ground.”
Conditions eligible for the Cancard include some of those falling under the categories of cancer, palliative care, gastrointestinal, pain, neurological, and psychiatric. For more information visit www.cancard.co.uk.