BlogPatients respond to national press over medical cannabis policing

Patients respond to national press over medical cannabis policing

10 min read

Greg de Hoedt

Exploring the intersection of medical cannabis legality and UK policing, this blog delves into the challenges faced by patients due to varying police awareness, advocating for improved education and consistent enforcement to safeguard patients' rights and ensure lawful use of prescribed cannabis.


Raining on medical cannabis' big parade

Amidst the five year celebrations since the UK medical cannabis laws came into effect, the Guardian has released an article by Mattha Busby highlighting some patient testimonials of police incidents caused by their lack of understanding of legal medical cannabis prescriptions. Rather than an attempt to spoil the festivities planned for the week, it highlighted that some patients were being failed by the very system that was set up to protect them. 

Details from some of the stories are quite shocking, with some police officers taking a disproportionate response after failing to accept that cannabis was legal on prescription. Detained in handcuffs and even locked in a cell, Sal recounts how he was arrested on Plymouth Beach whilst quietly vaporising his prescription cannabis next to his girlfriend. But this isn't an isolated incident; he isn't alone in this unfortunate occurrence, which needs to change. 

From a patient's perspective, there is frustration that the Police are not aware of the law. When the Guardian asked Sussex Police about the incorrect action they had taken over a medical cannabis complaint recently, they replied, "We cannot be expected to know all of the laws". 

This poses somewhat of a dichotomy; the public is expected to know the law because, in court, ignorance of the law is not a valid excuse but the Police do not hold themselves to the same standards. 

Patient advocacy and activism are still necessary

Patients have reported incidents of the Police being unaware of the law change on forums and social media from many parts of the UK, so it is evident that this issue of police education and understanding is quite widespread. Patient advocacy organisations and patient think tanks have been working together to try and come up with solutions to fix the issue to prevent any more patients from having negative interactions. 

Patient advocate Mohammed Waswai, founder of The Sanskara Platform, created the organisation after being arrested. The Police confiscated his prescription products and refused to believe they were legal, not even willing to look into the law he was telling them existed. 

Throughout the past two years, Mohammed has had multiple threads of communications with the Home Office to confirm the legitimacy of medical cannabis prescriptions and the proof that patients must carry with them if they carry such products. His investigations have led him to uncover the directive that the Home Office issued to all police forces on November 1st 2018, verifying that the Home Office did perform its duty to inform all relevant public services and authorities. But that raises questions over why many police forces and their officers still do not know the law.

Rhys Davidson, a Brighton-based patient, prescribed medical cannabis flowers for Ankylosing Spondylitis:

"I thought having a prescription was going to allow me to use the Police as a public service finally. All the time that medical cannabis was still against the law, I didn't feel like I could call the Police if a crime was committed against me. I've had my home broken into before, but I daren't call the Police because I fear if they smelled cannabis or saw a grinder on the table, they might charge me because it's easier to get a conviction for that than finding who stole my belongings. After reading those stories, I don't feel any safer."

Patients' right to carry their prescribed medicine is enshrined in law under The Equality Act 2010. It is important to remind those reading that although some negative stories have surfaced, it does not mean that every Police interaction involving a medical cannabis patient results in a negative outcome. Releaf has reported previously how the Police decipher who is a legitimate patient and what is a legal product or not. And just as patients head to social media to share their unfortunate mistreatment by the Police, there are lots of patients who joyfully share their delight that they had no issue. 

A game of numbers 

If we take a look at the numbers, we can start to make some sense and understand why some police forces may remain unaware of the medical cannabis laws we now have. 

Industry experts at the Cannabis Industry Council believe the UK currently has around 32,000 active patients, with approximately 1,000 new patients being prescribed each month. To those who were unaware of the law being in effect, that number may seem high, but for those who have had a closer eye on the expected size of the market in Britain, this number is only around 3% of the 1 million patients clinics that are hoping to register. 

Releaf survey results indicated that 34.8% of the UK population still don't know about medical cannabis, with a further 23.7% unsure of the law. Whilst there was large front-page media coverage of medical cannabis in the newspapers and on TV news stations when the law changed, it did not remain a headline topic for very long and did not dominate daytime television. The rules around advertising medicines are very strict, and advertising unlicensed medicines is even more so, which means medical cannabis-specific clinics have difficulty promoting what they do in the same way that clinics prescribing licensed medicines and conventional treatments can. 

There are 48 police forces in the UK, which might make it sound like it is an easy fix. The reality is there are 186,000 police officers in the UK, and the logistics of delivering nuanced training to every single officer is fairly complicated. But it raises valid questions, such as why it seems that the College of Policing hasn't updated its curriculum on policing drugs to include this important detail. 

21,139 new police recruits in 2023 do not appear to have been trained to know that medical cannabis is legal but will have had training on the Misuse of Drugs Act and how to deal with incidents of cannabis possession. It raises the question, how many recruits have there been since November 2018 who are medical cannabis naive? Policing has been a hot topic in politics for over a decade, with consecutive prime ministers repeating there will be 20,000 new police on the streets, but statistically, just as many police officers are leaving the force as joining

What can be done to improve medical cannabis patient rights?

There are various options for improving medical cannabis patients’ rights. The Home Office could take a more proactive role and apply pressure on the Police, who could take a two-pronged approach to rectify the problem. 

The Police should ensure their training for recruits includes up-to-date information about medical cannabis and they could devise a strategy whereby they provide the necessary budget to train serving police officers about the law. 

Patients can seek to change the status quo by helping raise Police awareness and improving their knowledge. Patients may wish to communicate with their local police force and inform them about the law and seek confirmation that officers across their force are aware of the policy regarding medical cannabis. It creates a paper trail to show that you have done everything in your power to ensure your safety and allows you to ascertain whether the Police are up to date with current legislation. Consider safety in numbers by contacting your local police force as a group of patients. 

Approximately 41.5% of the population knows about medical cannabis, so you might want to make a habit of asking people, "Did you know medical cannabis was legal in the UK"? And see what their response is? Ask ten people to see if the results are more than 3/10. It will indicate how much work needs to be done in your local area to raise more awareness. 

Local councillor Andrew Walters in Salford has taken the stance that councils need to do more to implement local protections for medical cannabis patients by tabling a motion at Salford City Council. Among a list of indications that the council could act on, councillor Walters calls for Salford City Council to write to the Chief of Greater Manchester Police "to enquire as to what information or training is given to police officers to ensure they are aware of the legal position, and to publish a copy of the letter and response." 

During a speech to include an amendment, the councillor remarked, "The police not knowing about medical cannabis after five years is like saying they didn't know Brexit or COVID happened". An interesting analogy that puts the time frame into tangible perspective. 

Further confusion

Medical cannabis patients have reported that Police in some parts of the country insist that patients produce a Cancard during stop and search procedures. A recent Freedom of Information reply from Merseyside Police revealed they believe that is the correct procedure. But this is incorrect; a patient can prove their legal status by providing proof of a prescription and ID, or furnishing the dispensing label attached to the medicine.

What is Releaf doing to help the situation?

Releaf takes patients' care and ongoing safety seriously and values their experience. All patients are given a handy Medical Cannabis Card that shows an identifying picture alongside the patient’s name, so the Police have the required information to prove they are a legal patient; the medical cannabis card features a QR code with a digital copy of the patient’s FP10 prescription, which Police can scan to verify the patient’s legal medical cannabis status, if required. A copy of their prescription, the original packaging with the pharmacy label and a driving licence are also appropriate.

Releaf remains committed to helping improve the lives of all patients, and their dedicated Patient Support Team, can assist in resolving a variety of challenges.

If you would like to see if you qualify for a medical cannabis prescription, take our eligibility test here. 

So, what's the final word on medical cannabis and UK policing?

There's a growing conversation around the need for UK police to be more consistent when it comes to enforcing medical cannabis laws. It's been five years since medical cannabis was made legal, yet it seems there's still a mix of understanding and approaches across various police forces. This issue is gaining more attention in the media these days. To help patients navigate these inconsistent enforcement practices, medical clinics are stepping up with extra advice and support. And interestingly, patients themselves are coming together, forming think tanks to brainstorm ways to improve their situation and help ensure the laws are applied more uniformly by the police.

Accessing medical cannabis can be challenging due to the stigma surrounding it. However, Releaf makes it simple with our tailored monthly packages, specialist consultations for medical cannabis, and a unique medical cannabis card for protection, all based on your 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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Greg, a prominent UK cannabis advocate and Crohn's survivor, has transformed his life through medical cannabis. Actively influencing national policy and media, he is a key figure in advocating for cannabis access and legislative reform.

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