By Emily Ledger
New reports suggest that around 20,000 people in the UK are now using medical cannabis cards launched last year by Cancard. Those living with a number of eligible conditions, including multiple sclerosis and cancer, can apply for a Cancard, which could help them to avoid arrest for using cannabis for medicinal purposes.
It has been estimated that around 1.4 million people in the UK are currently self-medicating a number of conditions with cannabis sourced from the black market. While medical cannabis was legalised in the UK in 2018, only a handful of patients have received a prescription through the NHS.
The private scheme offers protection for those with an eligible condition for medical cannabis through private clinics but who may not be able to afford private prescription fees. Patients can apply for a Cancard through their GP for an administrative fee of £20.
The card proves to law enforcement that the cardholder “has a qualifying condition for which medical cannabis may be prescribed.” The Times reports that 96% of cardholders have so far avoided arrest due to their card.
Cancard was created by Carly Barton, a medical cannabis patient and advocate, and designed with the input of doctors and senior representatives of the Police Federation. Carly Barton was one of many patients who has found that medical cannabis offers relief for her health problems – Fibromyalgia and post-stroke Neuropathy.
After self-medicating with illicit cannabis, Carly was the first person in the UK to receive a medical cannabis prescription privately in 2018. She has since been vocal in advocating for improved patient access to cannabis-based medicines for other patients.
Despite medical cannabis now being legal for over two years, it is thought that less than 100 people have so far received a prescription through the NHS. The majority of eligible patients turn to private clinics where the current restrictions mean that costs can be high.
The cost of private consultations and the need for the prescriptions to be approved by a specialist clinician means that many patients are forced to turn to illicit sources for their medicine. Under current UK law, those caught in possession of cannabis, without a prescription, can face up to five years in prison and an unlimited fine.
The aim of Cancard is to reduce these dangers and protect vulnerable people from prosecution. A YouGov poll carried out in 2019 found that 1.4 million people are currently using illegal cannabis medicinally. The data also suggests that a further 2 million people could be eligible for medical cannabis under prescription.