By Roland Sebestyén
From 1 November this year, a new cannabis exemption card will be available to protect medicinal cannabis patients from arrest and legal prosecution in the UK. Over 1 million people in the UK may be eligible for the Cancard through their GPs. The initiative is supported by the Police Federation, medical cannabis patients, and MPs all over the country.
In the UK, there are an estimated 1.4 million severely ill people relying on medical cannabis for its therapeutic effect. Due to the low numbers of these patients being able to access cannabis medicines legally through the NHS, many are forced to rely on cannabis from illicit sources.
The medical use of cannabis was legalised in the UK two years ago following the cases of two epileptic children who benefited from using cannabis gaining substantial media and public attention.
Cancard, which is a holographic photo ID, has been designed by medical cannabis patients in collaboration with senior police officials. The card will be available to people who suffer from conditions that have been prescribed for through private clinics since the law change in November 2018.
Although the recommendations of the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence accounted for the use of medical cannabis for some of these conditions, access through the NHS has remained non-existent. This has meant that, in spite of the law change two years ago, cannabis medications remain beyond the means of all but a few patients.
The Cancard was conceived by Carly Barton, the UK’s most prominent advocate for medicinal cannabis law reform. The scheme has been backed by medical cannabis patients and the Police Federation representing every rank and file police officer in the UK with a working group that includes senior officers from organised crime and the National Police Chiefs Council.
Those eligible, and in possession of a Cancard, will be able to identify themselves to police as verified medicinal cannabis patients and will have access to an open-source legal defence provided by Cancard should they require it.
Ms. Barton said: “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.”
Martyn Underhill, Police and Crime Commissioner for Dorset said that while more than a million patients in the UK qualified for a private cannabis prescription, many of them couldn’t afford it.
He added: “Cancard will provide them with an assurance that their ill health will not lead to a criminal record.
“Furthermore, 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 the confidence to use their discretion.”
How will the card application work?
The scheme is backed by some of the most senior clinicians in the UK. Cancard is partnering with Primary Care Cannabis Network (PCCN) which is run by practicing NHS GP Dr. Leon Barron.
The PCCN believes that GPs are well placed to become key prescribers for medicinal cannabis and are working with Cancard to help disseminate scientific information to every patient’s doctor to increase their knowledge base.
The organisation is also working on a solution for patients whose GPs are reluctant to engage with the initiative. They claim it is important to have as many participating GPs as possible as the application process requires professional assistance.
First of all, the patient calls their GP and permits them to confirm their medical condition with Cancard.
The patient will then submit their application, along with a passport photo and their GPs email address.
The GP is sent a form similar to that which is often requested for private health insurance – in that they are merely confirming a diagnosis that meets the eligibility criteria for a private cannabis prescription.
Now, the GP form comes back to Cancard signed for review via email, and finally, the Cancard is released to the patient.
The Cancard application process will not begin until 1st of November 2020, however, patients can register their interest in the scheme from the 9th of September.
For more information about the Cancard, to check eligibility and register your interest, visit cancard.co.uk