Buying or growing cannabis for medicinal use will be effectively decriminalised for drug users who carry a new “get out of jail free” card to stop them being arrested.
More than a million people in the UK will be eligible for an identity card, backed by police, that will allow them to grow their own cannabis at home or buy it from drug dealers.
Although cannabis is now legal to prescribe for some conditions in the UK, few prescriptions have been issued on the NHS, forcing patients to ask for the drug from expensive private clinics.
Many choose instead to grow their own cannabis or buy it on the street. Patients say it alleviates symptoms of chronic pain, migraines and nausea, but they fear being arrested and prosecuted.
The National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) and Police Federation have backed the “Cancard” – a driving licence-style card designed by campaigners that can be shown to police to encourage them to be lenient.
The scheme is run by campaigners, not by the Government, but police bodies will ask officers to respect its users and their medicinal intentions.
Every police officer will receive an information pack from the NPCC asking them to use discretion if they encounter a medicinal user of cannabis, and suggesting they are not arrested.
Officers will be encouraged to contact a hotline to advise them to be lenient on medicinal users.
Growing and consuming cannabis outside specific medical circumstances will remain technically illegal, but police say their time is wasted pursuing users who are “simply unwell” and they will not enforce the law.
To be eligible for the scheme, which launches tomorrow with 15,000 users, patients must obtain a letter from their GP to prove they have a condition for which cannabis oil can be prescribed. Around 1.1 million people in the UK are thought to be eligible.
The conditions include PTSD, anxiety, chronic pain, migraines and Crohn’s disease.
Campaigners say people with the cards will be able to grow their own plants or buy cannabis on the street and smoke it in a joint or e-cigarette, which can reduce their symptoms.
Jason Harwin, the NPCC lead officer for drugs and Deputy Chief Constable of Lincolnshire Police, said arresting patients who are taking cannabis because of their health conditions “can’t be acceptable”.
“This is a really live issue, where the police service finds itself stuck in the middle of a situation where individuals should legitimately be accessing 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,” he said.
“This can’t be acceptable and places the service in a position where we could be criminalising someone because of their illness.”
The Cancard scheme was conceived by Carly Barton, a fibromyalgia patient who is eligible for a legal medicinal cannabis prescription but self-medicates with black market cannabis because of the cost of the drug.
She said: “We all know that cases where patients have proved legitimate medicinal use are unlikely to make it to court, and if they do these cases are consistently dropped.
“This is especially the case when a patient presents with a condition that is being privately prescribed for. There is currently no way of identifying these people before emotional distress has been caused and public resources have been wasted.
“There is an opportunity to provide something that changes this by way of providing a service that benefits both the patients and the police.
“Cancard should give patients peace of mind and police confidence in using their discretion before any stress has been caused to vulnerable people.”