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Sep 10, 2020 3 min read

New ID will help 1 million Britons avoid arrest for cannabis

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by Ben Hartman
A police officer in the UK

More than a million Britons using medical marijuana may be eligible for a card that will protect them from being arrested by police, beginning as early as November 1st. 

The CanCard is a holographic photo ID that is available for patients who are currently being prescribed medical marijuana, as well as people who have one of the more than two dozen qualifying conditions for a medical cannabis card but have not received a prescription because they can’t afford one. The card’s developers say they will make it free for those on government benefits, while all others are requested to pay an unspecified administrative fee.

The initiative is a collaborative effort between cannabis activists, politicians, and UK police.

According to the makers of the CanCard, an estimated 1.4 million people in the UK use cannabis medicinally, and a further 1.1 million could qualify if they were able to afford a private consultation, which is currently not covered under the National Health Service.  

The card was the brainchild of medical cannabis patient and activist Carly Barton, described on the CanCard website as the first person in the UK to receive a private prescription for herbal cannabis to treat her fibromyalgia and post-stroke neuropathy. The Cancard website came out of the Carly’s Amnesty program, a “live campaign designed to allow patients the right to grow their own medicine over purchasing from the illicit market.” The program proposes that patients be allowed to register up to nine plants, which would be grown out of public view, inaccessible to the public or minors, and available for inspection by local authorities.

Technically the CanCard does not mean that the person can legally be in possession of cannabis, rather, it’s meant to help police officers better practice discretion regarding who to arrest for cannabis possession. As the makers of the CanCard state, the card proves “that you are legally entitled to a cannabis prescription and are only in contravention of the Drugs Act because you are unable to afford one.”

The patient’s general practitioner does not need to approve of their use of medical cannabis for the CanCard to be issued, they only need to confirm that the recipient has one of the qualifying conditions. 

As a back up plan of sorts, the card also comes with a stop and search guide, resources for their attorney, an outline of a legal framework for defense, and an anonymized self reporting tool that will help to build a picture of police involvement for the upcoming legal review.

The card does not cover home cultivation, though the group says it can provide guidance if someone is caught growing cannabis and will provide information about their condition to police. 

“This should go a way to demonstrate intent and question if it is in the public’s best interest to pursue a charge,” the group states. 

The CanCard website lists among its collaborators a number of police commanders and officials from the UK national Police Federation, including Simon Kempton, who is quoted on the CanCard website as saying that “I did not join the police to arrest people who are simply unwell and trying to manage their symptoms or pain. In fact I joined to help people in that position. ​Initiatives such as CanCard are important because they give police officers vital information which they can use when they have to make decisions on the street.”

There has also been bipartisan support among members of parliament, including Conservative MP Crispin Blunt, who said, “Despite the law change in November 2018 very few of the estimated 1.4 million people in the UK who consume cannabis for medical reasons have a prescription and thus face prosecution for treating their illness. This is a wretched situation both for patients who constantly fear a knock on the door from the police and for the police themselves who are in the unenviable position of having to arrest the sick.”

Medical cannabis became legal in the UK in July 2018, and since November 2018, specialist doctors have had the ability to prescribe cannabis-based medicines to patients. Patients have complained about difficulties in both getting approved for the program and access to cannabis, as well as highly prohibitive costs.

The medical cannabis program came into force following several high profile cases where children with debilitating conditions, including Alfie Dingley, whose rare form of epilepsy responded only to cannabis. His mother, Hannah Deacon, led a public campaign that led to British politicians throwing their support behind the change.

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