A new medicinal cannabis card scheme is set to be launched nationwide in the UK on November 1st, effectively decriminalising marijuana possession for those who rely on the plant to manage symptoms. Known as Cancard, the initiative was designed by cannabis campaigner Carly Barton and has received backing from the Police Federation of England and Wales and the National Police Chiefs Council.
Speaking to Seedsman, Barton explained that the card is intended “for people who qualify for a private [cannabis] prescription but can’t afford to sustain one,” thus bringing an end to the “two-tier system” that has existed since medical cannabis was first approved in the UK in 2018.
In the two years since then, less than 100 people have received a cannabis prescription on the NHS, as the official guidelines drawn up by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) have made it extremely difficult for GPs to actually prescribe marijuana to their patients. As a consequence, those in need of medicinal cannabis have been forced to pay for private prescriptions, often at prohibitively high prices.
Anyone who can’t afford to do so is left with no choice but to cultivate or buy their cannabis illegally, running the risk of criminal prosecution despite the fact that they qualify for a legal cannabis prescription.
Barton was among the first people in the UK to receive a private prescription, having suffered from fibromyalgia and nerve pain since having a stroke at the age of 24. She was later busted by police for growing her own cannabis after she could no longer afford to pay for her legal medication, and went on to set up the Carly’s Amnesty campaign, which aims to allow people with medical conditions to grow their own marijuana.
“From my work with the Amnesty and the police I could see that there was a massive amount of frustration from the policing side that they’d been put in the situation whereby they’re emotionally affected by having to make these arrests,” explained Barton.
“From November 1st, every police officer on the street will know what the card looks like, and they’ll all have been issued national guidance so that they can use their discretion to walk away from possession cases and leave the patient in charge of their medicine.”
“I think that Cancard will help police officers but more importantly it will reduce the fear for patients who have needlessly been put in a situation whereby they’re being criminalised for just keeping themselves well.”
What The Card Covers
Private clinics are now prescribing cannabis for an ever-growing list of conditions, ranging from anxiety and depression to cancer-related pain, and anyone who suffers from one of these ailments will be eligible to apply for the card. Initially, Cancard holders will only be allowed to possess marijuana, although the plan is to expand this in order to cover cultivation as well.
“Home grow is on the cards, discussions have already been had and they’ll continue but initially the card will only cover possession,” says Barton.
“However, if you are caught cultivating a small number of plants and you’ve got a card, that’s already evidence of intent for medicinal use, which would more than likely allow for the case to be dropped.”
“For many people this means the end of fear, or the end of maybe not wanting to go into town because they’re worried about having to take their vaporizer. Really simple things which are really limiting, and that fear has limited their opportunities and their life significantly.”
It’s also important to stress that any data collected from patients will be secure and in line with General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which means it won’t be passed on to the police or any other third party – so Cancard users really do have nothing to fear.
Changing The System
The initiative has been met with an overwhelmingly positive reaction from the public, politicians, medical professionals and the police. Some 2,600 people signed up for the card in the first nine hours after it was announced, and high-ranking officials have been quick to praise the scheme in the press.
For instance, Simon Kempton of the Police Federation told the Times that “our members didn’t join the police to lock up these people. This is an initiative that I support. Primarily it gives officers information on which to base their decision-making around whether or not to use discretion or to arrest a member of public.”
As use of the card expands, Barton hopes to see a shift not only in the way that cannabis is policed, but also in the way that it is prescribed.
“I think that there are thousands of clinicians that want to write prescriptions [on the NHS] but at the moment they can’t because of the NICE guidance, which is the blocker,” she says. “The only way to get around that is by internal pressure, and the biggest resource that we have in terms of applying internal pressure are the GPs.”
“With Cancard we’re bringing GPs into the fold and allowing them to explore this medicine and understand what it’s doing for their patients. And I think by doing that we’re going to see some internal pressure build up for NICE.”