BlogA cautionary tale: Why patients need to carry proof of prescription

A cautionary tale: Why patients need to carry proof of prescription

12 min read

Editorial Team

A cautionary tale: Why patients need to carry proof of prescription
Knowing you are legally allowed to carry the cannabis you have on you because it was prescribed by a doctor and dispensed by a pharmacy is a great feeling. Especially when compared to living with the constant fear of criminal consequences when you haven't got those prescription papers.

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At Releaf, we're always keen to learn from the experiences of our staff and patients. In this blog, Greg de Hoedt, outlines his and his acquaintances' experiences of being questioned by the police for cannabis possession.


At the time of writing, there are approximately 20,000 patients with a legal, medical cannabis prescription, a number that pales into insignificance when compared with Germany's 372,000 patients and where legalisation occurred only one year before the UK. This huge contrast makes it obvious that many patients in the UK might qualify for a legal prescription but are still sitting in the waiting room, deciding if they want to finally make the jump and have the legal protection that a prescription offers. 

Being left at risk of prosecution when there is a legal avenue to prevent it is why campaigners like myself spent over ten years campaigning for a law change.

A prescription pot does not offer legal cover

I have heard stories within the grey market that people will pay for a prescription every 6 months and refill their container with locally sourced cannabis in the belief that the prescription pot is giving them legal cover. This is a risky and inadvisable approach. Whilst under some circumstances the discrepancy might not be spotted, it won't be sufficient in a police raid, or even if an officer is well versed in prescription law. 

Paying for a prescription and going through the whole process once does not qualify you as a permanent medical cannabis patient in the eyes of the law. This misconception may have arisen from the translation of "medical cannabis" in people's minds based on what that policy means and looks like in the US, where patients have a legal exemption from existing anti-cannabis laws. In the UK, your prescription is valid for 28 days - just like any other medication a doctor has licensed you to use. Carrying a controlled drug beyond 28 days leaves you in possession of a substance that could result in a fine or even a date in court leading to a criminal record.

Due to the fact that not many patients are being stopped with their prescriptions, not very many have had the opportunity to test how the law applies to them. Some patients, however, are being stopped by the police over their blatant use of cannabis in public - which is their right - or when the police have come to their home or work premises. As someone who has witnessed this multiple times, I have seen exactly how the police deal with medical cannabis prescriptions.

How to carry your prescription

As a result of these chance encounters with the police, I have written a guide on how to make sure you are carrying a prescription in the right way to encourage a positive outcome with the police. If e.g. you followed the rules and that still resulted in your cannabis being confiscated or arrested, my recommendation would be to seek legal advice concerning the police action. Mistakes must be corrected to prevent them from being repeated. 

The UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs 1961 was never designed to penalise the end user of a substance. It was only in 1971 that Richard Nixon declared an "all-out war on drugs". The US declared "marijuana" a very unfitting "public enemy number 1" because anti-Vietnam war protesters commonly smoked cannabis. It was a way to intimidate people who were getting in the way of the government's war efforts. The UK followed suit and enacted The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, which, for the first time, categorised drugs into criminal groupings that carried certain set punishments if anyone was found in possession, producing, trafficking or supplying drugs. 

And now, rather than being seen as a health issue, the government considers drug use to be a criminal issue, and it falls upon the duty of the police to make sure the law isn't being broken and to put forward cases for the Crown Prosecution Service to pursue prosecutions for those they feel have acted unlawfully and where it is in the public interest.

Further, we are still seeing juries find patients guilty of possessing a legal prescription for cannabis not prescribed to them. Some judges have decided to discharge these verdicts, which makes the conviction spent immediately. A spent conviction is a criminal record, but it will not show as active on a CRB or DBS check for a job application, nor will it impact your travel abilities. 

Protection from adverse consequences

While it may seem like I'm just relaying the worst horror stories, my aim is to ensure that our patients understand their legal status and are protected from adverse consequences. Having a criminal record is a hindrance, and if you can avoid being dragged through the court process by being factually informed, this article will have achieved its goal.

What happens in a Misuse of Drugs Act raid?

In August, I visited a premises that is in the process of setting up a medical cannabis patient lounge. Downstairs is a shop and soon-to-be seating area; upstairs is an artist studio space. I was set up in the corner at a desk, writing an article on the history of UK cannabis laws for our education section. A few people were vaporising cannabis, some artists working on glassblowing torches, and some chillout music from a speaker. 

The premises has a large shutter door that opens up the whole front of the shop all the way up to the top floor, allowing people to see in and out without any hindrance. 

After I had been there for about an hour, someone ran up the stairs and said, "The police are outside". I turned to my right, glanced out of the open front, and saw several fully kitted-up police officers speaking to people outside. Whilst this was taking my attention, another officer walked upstairs and announced they were here on a Section 23 Misuse of Drugs Act raid and would thoroughly search the premises. They informed us that they were acting on the instruction of a warrant issued the same morning based on information they had received. 

The business owner was happy and willing to cooperate with the police force. He has a legal CBD business, and his shop is full of products labelled with CBD brands available all over the internet and in other high street shops. 

The police were there to do their job in numbers, approximately 12 in different parts of the shop, upstairs, downstairs and outside. They had a calm attitude and no hostility towards anyone there. No real excitement, nor was anyone getting scared or agitated. Still, it did feel like their presence was unnecessary because nothing of concern was happening to anyone there. Each of the police were conducting different parts of the search. 

Upstairs where I was watching all this unfold, I could see two officers starting to search people on the other side of the room as this is where they saw the use of cannabis taking place. Whilst the search of pockets took place, another officer started searching through people's bags on the floor, including going through every item in the black bin bag in front of those being searched. 

I have Crohn's Disease, and raised anxiety levels started to trigger my symptoms - mainly having to go to the toilet very frequently, which is a bit of an inconvenience. The one thing that stops this in its tracks is vaping high-THC cannabis high in alpha-pinene. It's also one of the terpenes that's quite uplifting for the mood. I walked up to the police officer in charge and showed my medical cannabis container and vape, and said, "I'm a patient, and I need to take my medication now. If you smell anything, just know that it's me and not anyone else" and put the vape to my mouth. "Crack on and do whatever you need to do", he replied. 

One patient being searched had a medical cannabis container looking rather tired. The container had been handled so much that the label had turned an orangey brown colour, and there was no visibility of ink so it wasn't clear who the container belonged to and what date it was dispensed. The patient did not have a paper copy of his prescription (sometimes referred to as an FP10) on him to prove that it was legally prescribed. As it turns out, the prescription was issued in February, six months prior, meaning that it was no longer valid. 

The cannabis in the container was refilled by the patient and seized by the police. 

Another patient was searched and found to have a plastic food bag in his pocket. He also claimed that he was a patient, so he was allowed to have cannabis on him. The cannabis wasn't in the medically prescribed original container. Once again, the patient had no paper copy of his prescription to hand. He showed the officer searching him an email showing that his latest prescription was on the way, but this was unsatisfactory to the officer, who made the request to see a valid prescription dated within the last 28 days. 

Not wanting to leave the patient in a situation where he wouldn't have his medicine, I intervened and started advocating for him. I asked him which clinic or pharmacy he was with. 

I contacted their patient support manager, who put me in touch with the pharmacy. After the patient gave his details over the phone, the pharmacy confirmed he was a patient. Still, he hadn't had a prescription fulfilled in six months until the most recent prescription had been written - but it hadn't been paid for yet. This legal confirmation was not enough to satisfy the police because the cannabis that the patient had was not prescribed by a doctor or dispensed by the pharmacy. The patient in question here was so confident that he would get his cannabis back from the police he turned up at the police station the next day with a paper copy of his out-of-date prescription, who assessed it and sent him home with caution. 

When searching for me, I presented the medical cannabis container prescribed the week before. The officer asked my name, and I said, "No comment" he chuckled and said, "You're going to have to give me your name if you want me to believe this prescription is yours". That was a good point; he had me there. So I told him my name and pulled out my Releaf medical cannabis card, a valid proof of identification in the situation, for it shows a picture of me and my name. The officer was quite satisfied with my prescription container and said who I said I was and, holding the Releaf card, said, "This is good; you should have just shown me that". This interaction gave me the confidence that there is no fear of presenting your information to the police if you have the correct information and your prescription is current. 

I was the only patient permitted by the police to keep their medical cannabis at the end of this drug raid. There was an element of survivor's guilt afterwards. I felt terrible that other patients had had their medicine, albeit not legal, confiscated by the police. Still, I also understood quite implicitly why they had taken it, especially as I was in the middle of writing about the history of UK cannabis and drug laws. 

The two clinics that the other patients were with require them to apply for their repeat prescriptions; this puts the responsibility firmly in their hands to ensure they have an in-date and valid prescription to possess medical cannabis. Releaf has built this highly convenient, time- and memory-saving feature into the subscription process. For the most forgetful of us, this is literally a freedom-saving service. Not only will patients get their prescription medical cannabis through the post every month, they don't even have to set a reminder on their calendar or phone. Payments come out of a linked bank account automatically, bypassing the need to open emails and pay an invoice in time so as not to miss the pharmacy and get it in the post. Releaf takes all of the hard work and stress and makes it a part of daily life, so a patient can carry on doing the things they need to while treating their medical condition effectively. 

Medical cannabis might have a cost associated with it. Still, so does losing a number of your rights because of a conviction for medicine you could have had access to but chose to try your luck. If I have ever been convinced about anything, this police interaction convinced me it is worth having a fresh prescription written every month. Read how these patients' lives have changed since having a prescription, and ask yourself how it would make you feel to live life legally too. 

Don't let the stigma surrounding medical cannabis prevent you from getting a suitable treatment. Releaf provides tailored monthly packages, specialist consultations for medical cannabis, and a unique medical cannabis card for protection, all based on your medical cannabis prescription.

It is important to seek medical advice before starting any new treatments. The patient advisors at Releaf are available to provide expert advice and support. Alternatively, click here to book a consultation with one of our specialist doctors.

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Authors

Editorial Team

Article written by the Releaf Editorial Team, a group of seasoned experts in cannabis healthcare, dedicated to enhancing awareness and accessibility in the field through their wealth of knowledge and experience.

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Compliance Director

Our articles are written by experts and reviewed by medical professionals or compliance specialists. Adhering to stringent sourcing guidelines, we reference peer-reviewed studies and scholarly research. View our editorial policy.

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Further reading

Trust your gut: IBS and medical cannabis

Cannabis has been used as a therapeutic for thousands of years, with evidence of its use in the treatment of gastrointestinal issues dating back centuries. Anecdotal evidence suggests that medical cannabis may be useful in the treatment of Intestinal Bowel Syndrome (IBS), and a growing body of clinical and observational evidence appears to support this potential.

Emily Ledger