Legal medical cannabis is almost impossible to access
In November 2018, medical cannabis was legalised in the UK following the highly publicised cases of two boys with severe forms of epilepsy. The families of Billy Caldwell and Alfie Dingley had previously been unable to provide them with cannabis oil to reduce their seizures.
At the time legalisation promised to provide access to cannabis for those suffering from a wide range of previously untreatable conditions. However, in the months that followed, it proved to be just as hard for patients to access legally prescribed cannabis as it was before.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence conducted a review of relevant scientific studies and decided that there wasn’t enough evidence for them to recommend it to be funded by the NHS. As a result, a prescription could only be obtained following an expensive private consultation and an ongoing fee for the cannabis itself that could exceed £1000 per month.
1.1 million people meet the criteria to receive a prescription but can’t meet the cost, so they either continue to suffer or risk prosecution by sourcing their own. Research conducted by Cancard suggests that 1.4 million people in the UK have had to find other methods of obtaining cannabis for a medical condition.
Carly Barton leads the initiative
Carly Barton suffers from chronic pain condition fibromyalgia and was the first patient to receive a prescription for cannabis in the UK. However, after paying £2,500 for a two months supply, she couldn’t afford to continue the treatment. Following two years of campaigning and working closely with working groups of MPs, police and fellow patients, Carly created the CanCard.
What is Cancard?
The CanCard is a holographic photo ID card that identifies the holder as a genuine medical cannabis patient. While it doesn’t make cannabis possession legal, it does give police a way of quickly identifying genuine medical cannabis users.
This makes it easier for police on the street to use their discretion and not pursue the matter any further. The CanCard group says that the card indicates “that you are legally entitled to a cannabis prescription and are only in contravention of the Drugs Act because you are unable to afford one.”
The Cancard mission has three main aims:
Level the playing field for medicinal cannabis patients in the UK.
Reduce the fear of criminalisation.
Provide an open-source legal argument free for patients who may be facing charges.
Anyone who is accepted onto the scheme is also given access to an open-source legal defence that can be used by any solicitor, should charges be brought against them.
Cardholders will be supplied with a detailed guide on what to do in the event of a stop and search. They can also access a patient forum and a self-reporting tool to note any interactions with police. Cancard will collate these experiences and use them to shape how the initiative moves forward.
Who can get one?
To be eligible for Cancard, patients must meet strict criteria:
Have a diagnosis (confirmed by their GP) that is currently being prescribed privately.
Have tried two types of prescription medication or have discussed and discounted these options based on side effect profile or dependence concerns.
Are unable to afford a private prescription.
Are required to be in possession of a small amount of cannabis in order to manage their symptoms.
There are over thirty conditions that may make someone eligible for medical cannabis. They fall into five categories: cancer, gastrointestinal, neurological, psychiatric and pain. To receive a card, your GP doesn’t need to make the application, but they must confirm your diagnosis for one of the included conditions. Cancard is also working on ways to support patients who find that their GPs aren’t willing to engage with the process.
Although the fine details are still being confirmed, applicants will likely be asked to pay and admin fee to get their card. Those on government benefits will be exempt from this charge and will receive it free of charge.
Can you grow your own with a Cancard?
Currently, Cancard only relates to possession of cannabis. Although patients being able to grow their own makes much more sense than having to source it illegally, Cancard is approaching the issues one step at a time.
However, Carly’s Amnesty, also run by Carly Barton, is pioneering a process in which home cultivators with a medical need notify the police that they are growing a small number of plants in their home. Both Cancard and Carly’s amnesty will also provide advice if someone is caught cultivating cannabis while trying to supply their medical needs.
It’s gained widespread support
Numerous groups and individuals have voiced their support for the Cancard and many suggest that it offers a better path for both patients and police. Labour Party MP Jeff Smith believes that the Cancard is an essential initiative for all concerned:
“It will help patients and police officers alike, reducing worry for those who are unwell and stopping police time being wasted on arrests which aren’t in the public interest.”
His thoughts are echoed by Simon Kempton of the Police Federation who said:
“I did not join the police to arrest people who are simply unwell and trying to manage their symptoms or pain. In fact, I joined to help people in that position. Initiatives such as Cancard are important because they give police officers vital information which they can use when they have to make decisions on the street.”
This is a crucial step towards the fair provision of medical cannabis for those who need it. However, genuine patients should never have been made to fear prosecution or be forced into getting their medication from elsewhere.
The team behind Cancard hope that this initiative will draw attention to the plight of the millions of patients suffering without access to the necessary medication. They intend for Cancard to act as a beacon for these patients as well as providing them with an effective support network.
Will you be applying for a Cancard? Let us know your thoughts below.