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One in five UK police officers don’t know medical cannabis is legal

The vast majority (89%) of police officers surveyed said they believed they would benefit from more training on medical cannabis.



Photo by Nikolay Dimitrov / Unsplash

The results of a newly-published survey show that more than one in five police officers in the UK think medical cannabis is still illegal— and most have received ‘inadequate’ training. 

Despite medical cannabis being legalised on prescription in the UK in November 2018, the survey highlights a lack of awareness of this among police officers. 

Researchers conducted a cross-sectional study among a nationally representative sample of 200 officers, between 24 October -1 November 2022. 

While most participants (71.5%) knew that cannabis is legal on prescription, 21% thought it was not legal and 7.5% said they weren’t sure. 

Almost a quarter (23.5%) said they had never received any formal training on this topic, while just under half (42/5%) believed the training they received was ‘inadequate’. 

The vast majority (88.5%) of police officers surveyed said they believed they would benefit from more training on cannabis-based products for medicinal use (CBPMs) including how to identify recipients of legally prescribed cannabis.

Police responses to medical cannabis patients 

Police officers were also asked about the action they had taken when encountering patients who claimed to be prescribed cannabis.

Overall 40% said they had found themselves in this situation. The most common responses were to ask for evidence from the person themselves (42.5%), checking the legitimacy of their claim with a healthcare professional (13.8%), or asking for advice from a colleague (10%). 

Six (7.5%) responses detailed the participant being detained or arrested, whilst two (2.5%) confiscated the individual’s cannabis. 

Over the last five years a significant number of patients have reported negative experiences with police as a result of their cannabis prescription, including being arrested and having medication confiscated unnecessarily.

In November of 2023, the Guardian reported that it had received 24 individual stories from people who had experienced negative police interactions related to the use of their prescribed medication. 

The national centre for drug expertise, Release, recently launched a new campaign aimed at protecting the rights of cannabis patients in the UK, in response to increasing reports through the charity’s helpline. 

Commenting on the launch of the campaign, Stephen Cutter, head of legal services at Release, commented: “Even though it has been over five years since the law was changed to allow for cannabis to be prescribed, we know that many patients continue to face confusion from law enforcement. This has led to patients being arrested, having their medication confiscated, or the validity of their prescription challenged.”

Improved education is ‘imperative’ 

This is the first study to assess the knowledge of medical cannabis among UK police. 

Writing in the paper’s discussion the authors state: “The results of this study show that a significant proportion (28.5%) of the police officers surveyed did not know the legal status of cannabis in the UK four years after the change in scheduling was implemented. Two-thirds of police officers had received either no or self-defined inadequate training on the legality of CBPMs. 

“This gap in awareness can contribute to negative interactions between police officers and legitimate patients as evidenced by the thematic analysis of the respondents’ actions when they encountered a potential medical cannabis patient.”

They add: “As the number of patients treated with CBPMs continues to increase, it is imperative that police officers are provided with improved education at either a local or national level.”

Sarah Sinclair is a respected cannabis journalist writing on subjects related to science, medicine, research, health and wellness. She is managing editor of Cannabis Health, the UK’s leading title covering medical cannabis and CBD, and sister titles, Cannabis Wealth and Psychedelic Health. Sarah has an NCTJ journalism qualification and an MA in Journalism from the University of Sunderland. Sarah has over six years experience working on newspapers, magazines and digital-first titles, the last two of which have been in the cannabis sector. She has also completed training through the Medical Cannabis Clinicians Society securing a certificate in Medical Cannabis Explained. She is a member of PLEA’s (Patient-Led Engagement for Access) advisory board, has hosted several webinars on cannabis and women's health and has moderated at industry events such as Cannabis Europa. Sarah Sinclair is the editor of Cannabis Health. Got a story? Email / Follow us on Twitter: @CannabisHNews / Instagram: @cannabishealthmag


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