Medicinal cannabis users are turning to illicit markets because of expensive prescriptions – with some living in fear of criminal action from the police.
Use of the Class B drug for health purposes was legalised in 2018, but thousands of people are struggling to access it.
An ID card has been launched that allows medicinal cannabis users to prove to police that they are allowed to carry the substance.
Estimates suggest that Cancard has prevented 1,400 people from being criminalised since it was rolled out one year ago.
Applicants need to provide a summary of care record from a GP that details their health condition, and a strict validation process is also in place.
Andrew Symes relies on medicinal cannabis to help manage a neurological health condition – and spent years living in fear after being arrested for possessing the drug on a number of occasions.
Although Cancard has helped his legal standing, the high price of prescriptions from private healthcare providers remains a worry.
“I’m still having to get my medication through the route that I don’t want to be going through,” he told Sky News.
Describing the impact that medicinal cannabis has had on his condition, he added: “Without it sounding too drastic, I don’t think I would be here if I didn’t have that tool in my box to be able to use.”
Cancard’s founder Carly Barton said she is “running an organisation that I wish didn’t have to exist”.
She told Sky News: “I really want there to be better access to medicinal cannabis at a good price with really good quality for patients in the UK.
“At the moment, that isn’t going to happen easily.”
Jason Harwin, the national police lead for drugs, the national police lead for drugs and a deputy chief constable at Lincolnshire Police, said officers “don’t want to be criminalising people we shouldn’t be criminalising”.
He added: “Yes, we need to enforce the law around the possession of cannabis because it is illegal.
“But we ultimately want to make sure individuals can access medicinal cannabis where there clearly is a health need.”