The New British Cannabis Patient Card: Don’t Leave Home Without It

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In the UK, a patient led effort to protect cannabis users from police harassment by implementing an official British cannabis patient card is finding early success.

There is not a single cannabis patient, globally, even in jurisdictions where cannabis has now become legal, who has not felt this fear at some point over the last decade (at minimum): What happens if I get busted for possession?

Beyond the press, and the celebratory news of the progression of the industry, in the weeds and the everyday hum and drum of daily life, every patient faces this—and for reasons ranging from sheer bad luck to even friends, neighbors, and others deciding that they do not like the smell wafting out of a closed apartment door, or the garden next door.

Losing one’s medication is, of course, only the start of it.

In the United Kingdom, thanks to a patient-led initiative that kicked off last fall, this discussion is moving into a new level. CanCard, the aforementioned British cannabis patient card, is an initiative conceived by leading UK patient advocate Carly Barton, and heavily supported by high-ranking police officers and even national politicians. British patients (many of whom cannot access either sympathetic doctors or a legal source of product) will have at least a bit more protection, if not help in actually finding a prescribing physician. Leading doctors have also backed the British cannabis patient card scheme, which has partnered with the Primary Care Cannabis Network (PCCN) run by an NHS general practitioner, Dr. Leon Barron.

Launched last fall, more than 20,000 patients have now signed up for it.

How The British Cannabis Patient Card Works

Patients sign up to the platform and submit required documentation, which includes a copy of a nationally issued ID and NHS number, plus doctor’s name, email, and practice. With this and a small administration fee (about $25), patients obtain a verified British cannabis patient card. This means that even if patients get caught with cannabis, police can exercise discretion by understanding that this individual is a legal cannabis patient who is medicating their condition as best they can.

Cannabis medicines became legal in the UK in 2018. That said, the “pharmacized” versions of the drug are so expensive that most cannot afford what is produced domestically, much less to import it from Holland or Canada. As a result, even eligible patients are still very much in danger from both arrest and confiscation of their medicine (or plants to grow it) if obtained via other means. That is a population, according to conservative estimates, that is well over 1 million people.

Patient Clubs and Cards

While this program is not like the American idea (namely that people with patient cards can shop in dispensaries), it is still an important step, and in some ways much more intriguing. Namely, by definition, it shows that large numbers of organized federally licensed practitioners and authorities are recognizing the legitimacy of cannabis as medicine as well as the danger patients face for using it in current conditions.

Beyond the medical and legal issues the cannabis card solves, it also does something else. It creates a highly qualified group of people, beyond patients themselves, who are, even if not protesting on the street or signing petitions, organizing for more change.

The Pending British Dilemma

Medical cannabis has been theoretically “legal” in the UK for just over 2 years, however the problems faced by the community, if not industry beyond that, are many. The logistical problems of Brexit, which effectively cut off patients just authorized to obtain cannabis via the NHS months after the program was implemented, are just the start of it.

So far, the government has moved clumsily and slowly on the issue, amidst increasing calls for reformation of the UK’s cannabis policy. Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London has also just announced that he will “examine” the benefits of cannabis decriminalization if he is re-elected. This is the first real call for such a program and given that London is the UK’s largest city, it is likely to not only happen, but have huge influence on the rest of the country.

The Birth of the British CBD Biz

However that is not all that is going on. In the meantime, the CBD industry is beginning to establish itself. Cultivation and extraction projects are going on all over the country—and not just on the mainland, but the Channel Islands as well.

Beyond this, and in large part also to the Mayor of London, police stop and search campaigns targeting minorities are also front-page news right now.

There is increasingly little appetite, in other words, for the continued arrest of patients and recreational users when a whole new industry is just getting off the ground.

The British are finally getting behind the idea that merely exporting the drug is no longer an option politically. Indeed as of 2018, the UK was still the largest exporter of medical cannabinoid medicines in the world according to the United Nations while refusing this medicine to its own citizens. This was one of the reasons, apart from a highly effective media campaign launched by the parents of dying children, that the entire debate moved at all.

Indeed, the rank hypocrisy of the entire situation (including the fact that former Prime Minister Theresa May’s husband was a major stockholder in the exporting company) was something that still wafts over the entire issue of reform today.

Given these factors, there is every reason to believe that there might in fact be a silver lining developing on the other side of the Brexit border when it comes to the issue of real and lasting reform, and sooner rather than later or post-Covid.

Hemp tea with the Queen might not be on the agenda just yet, but it is clearly on the agenda. And in the meantime, British cannabis patients will live lives that are just a bit easier.

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