Beyond Legalisation: The Ongoing Struggles of Medical Cannabis Patients in the UK

Despite the legalisation of medical cannabis in the UK over five years ago, patients continue to face a myriad of challenges that extend far beyond mere access to their medication. From legal uncertainties and social stigmatisation to poor standards and systemic inconsideration for public welfare, the journey for patients prescribed medical cannabis is fraught with obstacles that undermine their rights and well-being, casting a shadow over their pursuit of health and dignity.

Persistent Threats: Legal Uncertainties and Discriminatory Enforcement

One of the most pressing issues facing medical cannabis patients is the persistent threat of arrest and prosecution, even in the wake of legalisation. Despite possessing valid prescriptions, patients remain vulnerable to discriminatory enforcement practices and outdated drug policies that fail to recognise the legitimacy of medical cannabis use. This not only creates a climate of fear and uncertainty but also perpetuates harmful stereotypes and misconceptions surrounding medical cannabis patients.

Additionally, the concerning trend emerges where patients are forced to set precedents at every local police force for changes to occur. This reality is starkly highlighted by the case of The Sanskara Platform volunteer who was arrested for possessing their legal cannabis prescription by the Devon & Cornwall Police. Such incidents not only highlight the inconsistencies and inadequacies within law enforcement practices but also underscore the urgent need for comprehensive policy reforms and greater accountability.

Furthermore, patients encounter resistance and discrimination from local authorities and businesses that refuse to accommodate their medical cannabis prescriptions. Despite the legality of their treatment, patients are often denied access to public/private housing, public spaces, transportation services, and even employment opportunities due to prevailing misconceptions and prejudices surrounding medical cannabis use. This systemic discrimination not only exacerbates social inequalities but also undermines the fundamental rights and dignity of medical cannabis patients.

Positive Steps and Lingering Challenges: Police Training and Legal Clarity

The recent update to the policy by the Devon & Cornwall Police Force, spurred by engagement from advocacy groups and healthcare professionals like The Sanskara Platform, Seed Our Future, Mamedica Clinics & Integro Clinics, marks a positive step towards improving police attitudes and responses to medical cannabis patients. However, challenges persist, particularly regarding the lack of comprehensive training for law enforcement officers across the UK on how to interact with patients and respect their rights under the law. Without adequate training and awareness, the risk of unjust treatment and discrimination against medical cannabis patients remains a troubling reality.

Driving Regulations and Social Acceptance: Ambiguity and Discrimination

Issue of driving while medicated remains contentious, with ambiguity surrounding legal thresholds and impairment standards for medical cannabis patients. Many patients fear unjust scrutiny and punishment for simply attempting to manage their medical conditions responsibly. Clear guidelines and education initiatives are urgently needed to ensure that patients can navigate the complexities of driving regulations without fear of discrimination or persecution, safeguarding both public safety and patients’ rights.

Funding Gaps: Lack of Government and NHS Support

Concerns persist around the lack of government and NHS funding for access to medical cannabis for patients, as well as significantly important research to advance the understanding of its use. Without adequate funding and support, patients are left to navigate a fragmented healthcare system that fails to prioritise their needs and well-being, perpetuating disparities in access to medical cannabis treatment and hindering scientific progress in the field. The absence of government and NHS funding raises critical questions about the commitment to patient care and the advancement of medical science. Shouldn’t patients have equal access to all potential treatment options, especially when they have been legally prescribed? Shouldn’t research into the therapeutic benefits and risks of medical cannabis be a priority for public health agencies? The lack of funding not only undermines patient rights but also stifles innovation and progress in understanding how medical cannabis can be safely and effectively integrated into mainstream healthcare practices.

Stock Issues and Product Concerns: Contamination and Seed Prevalence

Contamination remains a significant concern for medical cannabis patients in the UK. Despite the sterilisation process of irradiated flowers, patients still encounter contamination with bugs and mould. Even with efforts to address contamination issues, such as discontinuing or temporarily suspending products, patients often face a domino effect of stock issues, exacerbating the challenges of accessing consistent and reliable medication. With every influx of patients or product issues, the issue of stock shortages persists, leaving patients vulnerable and underserved in their pursuit of treatment.

Continued issues regarding contamination is the prevalence of seeds in medical cannabis products, which further underscores the inadequacies of the current regulatory framework and industry standards. The forthcoming implementation of the monograph “EUDRA Cannabis Flower (03028)” on July 1, 2024, which mandates products do not contain any seeds (2.8.2), presents a critical opportunity to address this issue and uphold the quality and integrity of medical cannabis products. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) must take proactive measures to ensure the timely and effective implementation of the monograph within their standards, thereby safeguarding the interests and well-being of medical cannabis patients across the UK.

The battle for medical cannabis patients’ rights and dignity is far from over. It requires concerted efforts from policymakers, law enforcement agencies, healthcare professionals, advocacy groups, and society at large to dismantle the barriers and prejudices that obstruct patients’ access to safe, effective, and dignified medical treatment. Only through collective action and unwavering commitment can we truly honour the rights and humanity of medical cannabis patients and ensure that they receive the care and respect they rightfully deserve.

Mohammad Wasway is a medical cannabis patient, founder of the Sanskara Platform and IACM Patient Council UK representative.

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