BlogMedical cannabis and renting: What you need to know

Medical cannabis and renting: What you need to know

10 min read

Emily Ledger

Medical cannabis and renting

Cannabis was legalised in the UK in 2018, opening the door for thousands (if not millions) of patients who could benefit from these diverse medications. Yet, more than five years on, guidance and education on the subject remain limited, particularly when it comes to legal aspects of medical cannabis use, including patient rights when it comes to renting.

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It is estimated that over 30,000 patients in the UK have now gained access to cannabis-based medicines via prescriptions from private clinics. However, evidence shows that an overwhelming number of people are unaware of the legalisation of cannabis-based medicines. Unfortunately, this means that it often falls on patients to explain the use of their medicine to friends, family, strangers, and even their landlords.

But what happens when someone challenges your use of medical cannabis? A lack of education and guidance from government sources can make it difficult to know where you stand, especially regarding your employment and living arrangements. 

Although thorough research has been undertaken to create this blog, please note it should only be used as guidance, and does not constitute legal advice. 

What is the law around medical cannabis?

On the 1st of November 2018, the UK government officially rescheduled cannabis in the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. The law change - which saw cannabis-derived medical products moved from Schedule 1 to Schedule 2 of the Act - effectively legalised the prescription of medical cannabis for a range of conditions. 

For over five years, specialist doctors have been permitted to prescribe cannabis-based medicines in cases where at least two other conventional medications have failed to achieve satisfactory outcomes. Eligible conditions include but are not limited to, chronic pain, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and anxiety. 

Prescribing of medical cannabis through the NHS remains extremely limited, largely due to a lack of education about such medications, and restrictive recommendations from the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE). As a result, the vast majority of patients in the UK access medical cannabis through private clinics. 

How many people are using medical cannabis in the UK?

To date, it is estimated that around 32,000 patients in the UK have received a prescription for medical cannabis. While this may sound like a large number, it pales in comparison to the number of people who could potentially benefit from these often life-changing medications. 

Data from 4,210 people who participated in our 2023 report (Say no to pain: Research into attitudes towards medicinal cannabis in the UK) indicates that around half of adults in the UK are living with a condition that could be treated with medical cannabis - that equates to around 29.6 million UK adults. Furthermore, the findings of a 2023 study suggest that approximately 1.8 million people are actively self-medicating with illicit cannabis products.

Yet, a significant portion of the UK population remains unaware that medical cannabis is legal. This lack of awareness continues to cause problems for patients in various aspects of their lives, from attending events to simply living in rented accommodation. In a climate where finding suitable and affordable rental properties is becoming increasingly difficult, some patients report being forced to deal with additional pressures associated with the use of their medicine. 

Patient experiences of renting while using medical cannabis

A number of incidences have been reported in the media regarding medical cannabis and renting. Some patients describe how neighbours confronted them about the smell of their medical cannabis, despite them taking steps to minimise the issue, such as vaping and even buying filtering systems for their homes. In the UK, cannabis flower is only prescribed for vaping, with smoking of the drug remaining controlled.

Forums such as Reddit also feature stories from a number of patients seeking advice regarding medical cannabis and renting. One patient asked for advice following neighbour complaints to themselves and their landlord, resulting in an inspection of the property being scheduled. 

Another described how a member of the block management company in charge of their flat had disclosed personal information to another tenant and encouraged them to continue reporting the patient to the police, despite being informed of their medical cannabis status. 

Medical cannabis and landlords

Issues with landlords and property management companies regarding medical cannabis usually stem from a misunderstanding or unfamiliarity of the law. 

Most landlords will include clauses in their tenancy agreements prohibiting the use of illegal drugs - usually as defined by the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. Medical cannabis is exempt from this legislation but - as we covered earlier - not everyone is aware of this.

Our own data indicates that around a quarter of people in the UK remain unaware of the legality of medical cannabis. Unfortunately, this includes landlords and even members of the authorities, including the police and your local council. More people still are likely unaware of the rights of medical cannabis patients when it comes to renting.

Medical cannabis and renting - What does the law say?

As many patients note, it can be difficult to find specific guidance on what to do if you’re renting with a medical cannabis prescription. While more information has been made available in recent years - largely thanks to the findings of legal cases of other patients and the sharing of resources on forums like Reddit - many patients appear to still be unsure of where they stand when disclosing their patient status to neighbours and landlords. 

The Equality Act 2010 is the most important piece of legislation to be aware of when it comes to your right to use prescription medication - whether in public or in the comfort of your own home. 

The Equality Act 2010 includes provisions to “legally protect people from discrimination in the workplace and wider society.” This legislation can be applied to medical cannabis patients under Section 15 (1): Discrimination arising from disability. Under this legislation, a person is considered to have a disability if:

  • You have a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal activities.
  • You have been diagnosed with a progressive condition, including but not limited to HIV, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, or multiple sclerosis.

Most conditions covered under medical cannabis prescription are likely to come under the scope of disability as defined by the Equality Act 2010. This legislation rules that it is unlawful to treat any person with a disability (as defined above) in a discriminatory manner. For example:

  1. A person (A) discriminates against a disabled person (B) if—
  1. A treats B unfavourably because of something arising in consequence of B's disability, and
  2. A cannot show that the treatment is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.
  1. Subsection (1) does not apply if A shows that A did not know, and could not reasonably have been expected to know, that B had the disability. 

The Equality Act 2010 and renting

Whether you are using medical cannabis and renting privately or are renting from the council, your rights are the same. When medical cannabis is prescribed in the UK, it should be treated the same as any other prescription medication. This means patients are entitled to use their medication whenever and wherever they need to, as directed by their doctor. Just as a patient with diabetes is not required to disclose their use of insulin, nor is a medical cannabis patient required to disclose their use of cannabis-based medicines. 

Treating a tenant differently because of their medical cannabis use would likely fall under discrimination as per Disability provisions in the Equality Act 2010. This includes refusing to let property or evicting a tenant based on their disability or, by proxy, the use of their prescribed medication.

While it is not mandatory to share your status as a medical cannabis patient, doing so may allow them to make any necessary adjustments (such as allowing tenants to vape inside) to their policies and avoid any misunderstandings in the future. However, your landlord or letting agency is not entitled to access your medical records.

Medical cannabis and vaping

As noted above, medical cannabis flower should only be consumed using a vaporiser. This is the only method your doctor will recommend due to health and legal concerns. Therefore, smoking your medical cannabis in a rented property may affect your rights under the Equality Act 2010. Medical cannabis prescriptions issued through Releaf come with a Welcome Box which includes a vaporiser and a medical cannabis identification card that is recognised by police.

What can I do if my neighbours complain about the medical cannabis smell?

While smoking causes the combustion of cannabis, releasing strong-smelling smoke, vaporisers apply much lower temperatures to cause the evaporation of oils from the plant. This not only helps to preserve many of the active compounds found in cannabis, but it also helps to limit the aromas being released. Nonetheless, this may not completely eliminate the smell of your medication. 

For a lot of people, the smell of cannabis around their homes is undesirable. This may lead to your neighbours complaining, either to yourself, your landlord, or even the police. While this is frustrating, the best approach to these situations is to maintain a respectful dialogue with your neighbours. 

Explain to them that your use of medical cannabis is completely legal and you have a prescription for your medication. In many cases, this will be sufficient to resolve any issues with neighbours. Unfortunately, as demonstrated by the stories of many medical cannabis patients, this may not always be the case. 

What if the matter escalates?

If your neighbours refuse to believe that you are using medical cannabis legally or continue to complain to your landlords and police, rest assured that you have the law on your side. It may be advisable to seek legal advice from a solicitor or the Citizen’s Advice Bureau who can help explain your position. They may send a cease and desist letter to your landlord informing them of their potential breach of the Equality Act 2010.

Final thoughts

While medical cannabis has been legal in the UK for over five years, many patients continue to face obstacles and discrimination, whether at work, in public, or even in their homes. Medical cannabis and renting can be difficult to navigate. But, the most important thing to know is: you have the right to use medical cannabis as directed by your prescribing doctor, whether inside or outside of your home, rented or otherwise. 

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

Emily, an accomplished content writer with a specialisation in cannabis and alternative health, leverages her five years in the sector to enhance education and diminish stigma around medicinal cannabis use.

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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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