A new initiative which could protect over one million medical cannabis users from prosecution has launched this month with an “encouraging” response from police forces.
Cancard was founded earlier this year by Carly Barton, a former university lecturer who became the first patient in the UK to be prescribed cannabis after its rescheduling for medical use in November 2018.
Carly uses cannabis to ease the chronic pain she experiences from fibromyalgia, a condition she developed following a stroke in her early twenties.
The scheme seeks to protect patients who use cannabis-based supplements to treat a medical condition. As such treatments remain unavailable through the NHS, only private practices have been able to prescribe medical cannabis – which can come at a significant cost to the patient.
Although Carly was one of the first to access cannabis legally in the UK, the large monthly prescription bill meant she soon had to resort to growing her own and buying cannabis illicitly.
There are approximately 1.4 million people in the UK who regularly consume cannabis for health reasons, who according to Carly, are often “living in fear” of prosecution or arrest.
Since opening for applications on the 30 November, Cancard has received over 3,700 submissions with an average of 208 applications per hour on the day of its launch. The first applicants are expected to receive their card in the next few weeks.
The scheme has also received a “really positive” response from the UK police. Following a briefing from the National Police Chief Council, Carly says most of the training packages have been delivered by the police intranet.
“It [training] has been delivered really well by the police,” she says.
“They’ve done a smashing job on communicating it all. Every officer in the UK should now know about Cancard and should know what to do if they encounter one.
“Patients are reporting to us that they’ve already spoken to PCSOs [Police Community Support Officers] and police in their areas, and found that they are aware of it, they know about it, and they are supportive.
“We’ve also had a lot of emails and calls from individual police authorities and they’ve been really encouraging. They’ve been getting in touch to say it’s a brilliant idea.”
Unfortunately, it hasn’t been this easy with every police authority. Some have been more reluctant, especially those that take a hard line on drug enforcement. And although the company has worked with the Home Office to roll out the scheme, according to Barton, it “can’t and won’t” make a statement unless there is an official change to the drugs act.
“What we can do is make changes operationally without making a change to the law,” Carly adds.
“That can be done in two ways; police discretion and national guidance.
“We were gradually seeing a shift in attitudes before Cancard but I think that there was still a lack of confidence amongst frontline police officers, particularly new staff, in how safe it felt to use their discretion.”
Cancard gives police officers and PCSOs the confidence to use their discretion, as cardholders have been checked to ensure their condition qualifies for a cannabis prescription.
There are two ways of being certified for a Cancard, either through a GP or through self-certification. People can self-certify by asking their GP receptionist for a copy of their summary of care, a one-page document containing details of previous diagnoses and prescriptions. An email is then sent to their GP to confirm that the individual has the condition which they claim to have on their application.
The self-certification route was put in place to allow people to access the card without it affecting their medical records. Currently, individuals are unable to access NHS mental health services, such as cognitive behavioural therapy, if they have consumed cannabis in the previous three months.
Carly was surprised by the response from GP practices.
“We were anticipating that GPs would be reluctant,” she says.
“But we’ve had literally thousands of GPs confirm patients’ conditions and we haven’t had any that have refused.”
However, Cancard is remains a temporary solution and it is hoped that in the future there will not be a need for the scheme.
Carly says: “We need to understand that there are 1.4 million people in the UK who are successfully consuming [cannabis] for their conditions and they’re choosing a natural supplement over potentially harmful pharmaceutical drugs.
“In my case, I’ve been able to come off fentanyl, morphing and Benzodiazepines because of cannabis. We can’t ignore that people are getting real benefit from this and we can no longer ignore the evidence that’s coming out of countries with sophisticated medical science.”
She adds: “What Cancard does is answer the question: should these people be criminalised for taking this supplement? I have yet to find anybody who says yes to that question in the police or otherwise.”
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