A system of ‘cannabis cards’ for medicinal users which will effectively decriminalise the drug is being backed by police chiefs.

Around three and a half million people with health conditions will be allowed to use the card under the proposal, according to The Times.

Those with illnesses such as cancer, depression, epilepsy and multiple sclerosis will be eligible to use it and will identify them as a ‘registered medical cannabis patient’. 

It will prevent them being slapped with a fine or five-year prison sentence for buying cannabis on the black market for their condition.  

Medical cannabis has been legal in the UK for nearly two years. But due to strict rules, only a handful of people have been given an NHS prescription.

Currently, it is believe more than a million people in the UK buy cannabis illegally to self-medicate. 

Police chiefs say they are trying to ensure the card is not exploited by organised crime, but it is not clear yet how this would be done.

Patients who have been authorised to use medicinal cannabis for their conditions will not face arrest following the introduction of a new card which has received the backing of police

Patients who have been authorised to use medicinal cannabis for their conditions will not face arrest following the introduction of a new card which has received the backing of police

Medical cannabis has been legal in the UK for nearly two years, though only a small number of people have received an NHS prescription for the drug

Medical cannabis has been legal in the UK for nearly two years, though only a small number of people have received an NHS prescription for the drug

And it will mean police officers have a justification for not arresting them when they are in possession of cannabis.

The plan is being backed by the Police Federation of England and Wales and the National Police Chiefs Council is working with the organisers of the cards to design and implement it.

Patients who use cannabis to relieve pain from their medical issues find themselves being arrested for possession of the drug.

Only a small number of people – thought to be less than 100 – have been given an NHS prescription for medicinal cannabis since it was legalised in November 2018. 

Epidiolex, for children and adults with epilepsy, nabilone, for chemotherapy patients, and Sativex, for people with MS-related muscle spasticity, are considered licensed cannabis-based medicines. 

All other cannabis-based medicines are unlicensed and often referred to as ‘specials.’

The decision to prescribe the cannabis-derived medicines must be made by a specialist doctor – not a GP, the Government rules. 

The cost of a private consultation has priced many out of the option of legal cannabis. So they turn to the black market.

MEDICINAL CANNABIS: WHAT ARE THE RULES IN THE UK? 

Medical cannabis has been available on prescription in the UK since it was approved by the Government in July 2018.

Doctors are able to prescribe medicine derived from marijuana, but the decision to must be made by a specialist doctor – not a GP, the Government rules.

At the time of law change, the Home Secretary Sajid Javid (2018-2019) said: ‘Following advice from two sets of independent advisors, I have taken the decision to reschedule cannabis-derived medicinal products – meaning they will be available on prescription.

‘This will help patients with an exceptional clinical need.’

Mr Javid added it was ‘in no way a first step to the legalisation of cannabis for recreational use’.

It came after he granted an exceptional licence for Alfie Dingley, six, and Billy Caldwell, 12, to use cannabis for their epilepsy.

Possession of the class B drug will still carry an unlimited fine and up to five years in jail, while dealers face 14 years in prison.

Some products that might claim to be medical cannabis, such as CBD oil or hemp oil, are available to buy legally as food supplements from health stores.

But there’s no guarantee these are of good quality or provide any health benefits.

Last year, a YouGov survey found that almost three per cent of the adult population, 1.4 million people, were using cannabis for a medical condition. 

A further two million who are not using the drug may be eligible for the card, the research suggested.

Those without a prescription and caught in possession of the drug face a five-year prison sentence as well as an unlimited fine. The dealer can face 14 years in prison.

The cannabis card, also referred to as CanCard, is set to be introduced in as private scheme November and will give people who need medical cannabis but cannot afford a prescription support in order to avoid arrest.

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, for a number of reasons. Primarily 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.’

Jason Harwin, from the police council, said: ‘This is a real live issue, where the police service finds itself stuck in the middle of a situation where individuals should legitimately be able to access their prescribed medication but because of availability and cost they can’t and therefore to address their illness rely on having to use illicit cannabis.

‘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.’

The police council wants to make sure the cannabis card, funded by companies in the medical cannabis industry, is not taken advantage of by organised crime gangs. 

Carly Barton, 33, a former university lecturer, is the brains behind the scheme. She suffered a stroke at 24, triggering nerve damage that left her in constant pain.

She was prescribed opiates but they left her sedated. In desperation she tried cannabis and found she was pain free and able to lead a productive life. 

However, she could not afford the private prescription of £1,000 so decided to grow her own, as many others chose to do. But the police raided her house and confiscated her plants.

Ms Barton says private clinics have stepped in ‘to fill the void’ caused by a blocking of integrating cannabis into the healthcare system, The Centre for Medicinal Cannabis – a UK-based industry membership body – reported.

Sapphire Clinics is one such private clinic and has become one of the few options for patients to access medicinal cannabis.

They clinic in Marleybone, London, had more than 50 people on its waiting list when regulators approved for it to start giving prescriptions in October 2019. 

It’s soared since, according to founder Dr Mikael Sodergren.

He said: ‘Whilst the treatments on the NHS are still very limited, we are witnessing a significant increase in volume of patients referred to our clinic over recent months.

‘This is likely to be due to a combination of factors including increased awareness of both patients and healthcare workers, increased accessibility using our telemedicine platform and significant reduction in costs of medications as importation rules have changed.’ 

The decision to change the law for cannabis-based medicine in 2018 came partly in response to a rapid evidence review of evidence by the chief medical officer.

It concluded that medicinal cannabis products could be effective for some medical conditions, backed by compelling campaigns from families who discussed how the treatment had helped their sick children. 

A remarkable public campaign was spearheaded by a Northern Irish mother, Charlotte Caldwell, on behalf of her son Billy, who is now 15 years old.

High concentration forms of cannabis oil have been hailed for treating the symptoms of epilepsy, HIV and cancer.

Some products that might claim to be medical cannabis, such as CBD oil or hemp oil, are available to buy legally as food supplements from health stores.

But there’s no guarantee these are of good quality or provide any health benefits, although anecdotally people report better sleep, mental health and alleviation of common conditions. 

THE LANDMARK CASE OF BILLY CALDWELL

Billy Caldwell's mother Charlotte (pictured together) had seven bottles of cannabis oil confiscated at Heathrow Airport customs, prompting a row over cannabis oil

Billy Caldwell’s mother Charlotte (pictured together) had seven bottles of cannabis oil confiscated at Heathrow Airport customs, prompting a row over cannabis oil

Cannabis oil was thrust into the limelight when epileptic boy Billy Caldwell’s mother had seven bottles confiscated at Heathrow Airport customs.

The 12-year-old sparked a row over the medicinal status of the oil, prompting the Home Office to step in and grant his mother Charlotte an emergency licence for the product that was calming his seizures, which contained THC.

Billy’s bottles were confiscated on June 11 after Ms Caldwell brought them in from Toronto.

On the back of the cases of Billy and fellow epileptic boy Alfie Dingley, six, Home Secretary Sajid Javid called for a review into medicinal cannabis.

In a major shift of policy, he announced in July that some products containing the drug would be available on prescription in the UK from the autumn. 

On the back of today’s change to the law, Ms Caldwell said she wept with joy.

‘For me what started off as a journey which was about the needs of my little boy actually turned into something, proved to be something, a lot bigger,’ she told Sky News. 

‘It proved to be the needs of a nation.

‘Medicinal cannabis gave me back my right as a mummy to hope, but the most important thing medicinal cannabis has done is given Billy back his right to life.

‘Only relatively recently did our Government and country really start to appreciate just how many wee children and people of all ages were affected by the difficulties associated with accessing medicinal cannabis.

‘But it became clear it wasn’t just about what was perceived to be a small number of very sick children and that medicinal cannabis could make a life-changing or life-saving difference to more than a million people.’

Although thrilled by the law change, Ms Caldwell hopes regulations will be expanded to allow more people to benefit from cannabis-based treatments.

‘This is new ground for everybody. We did in a few days what successive UK governments failed to do in more than half a century and made medicinal cannabis legal,’ she said.

‘Then, as now, politicians didn’t realise the complexities involved.

‘There’s a wide range of conditions, each of which can only be treated by certain forms of medicinal cannabis.’

source: dailymail.co.uk

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