A “cannabis card” system to protect medicinal users in the UK from arrest has been backed by police chiefs.
Despite medicinal cannabis being legalised in 2018, and tens of thousands of people using the drug medicinally, only around 100 people have been given an NHS prescription for the drug. Others have gone private to get a prescription, often at a huge cost. Most people who need cannabis to help with conditions such as multiple sclerosis and epilepsy are still buying the Class B drug illegally, and risk arrest and prosecution.
Campaigner Carly Barton, who uses cannabis to treat constant nerve pain after suffering a stroke when she was 24, came up with the plan for “Cancards” to address what she sees an an unfair, two-tier system.
“Two years on from the law change around access to medicinal cannabis, we are still very much seeing a two-tier system in the UK,” Barton told VICE News. “Those affluent enough to afford a private prescription are able to buy themselves immunity from prosecution, while people who legally qualify, but can't sustain the costs, are at risk of criminalisation for consuming the same medicine for the same condition.
“After 24 months of patients living in fear of arrest and the police feeling frustrated with their position, there was an opportunity to work with police on a collaborative solution and decriminalise possession for these patients based on a mutual arrangement.
“Without a law amendment, we have two methods of making operational change. Those are: the issuing of national guidance and the authority to use discretion, both of which form the basis for Cancard. Cancard is complimentary to diversion schemes that exist already in the UK.”
Barton’s plan, which is seeking crowdfunding and is set to be trialled on a small scale in November, has been backed by the Police Federation of England and Wales and the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC).
Simon Kempton, of the Police Federation, told the Times: “Our members didn't join the police to lock up these people. This is an initiative that I support… 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.”
But Jason Harwin, from the NPCC, warned that the card “isn't a get out of jail free card… it does not give holders the right to carry illicit drugs. It's a flag to us that the person should be accessing medication.” He said the NPCC would make sure the scheme is not hijacked by criminals,
The Cancard plan comes in the wake of calls by drug policy campaigners that the best way to deal with low level cannabis possession cases – including medical users – is to formally decriminalise the drug.
So far, several police forces – such as County Durham and Avon and Somerset – have introduced policies to de-prioritize cannabis possession offences in order to free up more time to target Class A suppliers.