A man on the Isle Of Wight has challenged a prosecution for cannabis possession by providing the court with a Cancard (a medical ID card designed to let the police know that a person is consuming cannabis for medicinal reasons).
This is the first time the Cancard has been used in court. Upon its presentation, prosecutor Ann Smout adjourned the case in order for a senior Crown Prosecution Service lawyer to validate it. She said she had never seen such a card in any court case before.
Newport resident David Toker (yes, really) only presented the Cancard and did not enter a plea to the alleged September 9 offence when he appeared at the Isle of Wight Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday, December 21.
While medical cannabis has been legal in the UK since 2018, it is all but impossible to get a prescription on the NHS. Therefore, to consume cannabis legally, patients must pay for private prescriptions from private clinics.
Will it work?
Commenting on Facebook, president of CLEAR and cannabis expert Peter Reynolds says:
“Since 2012, the sentencing guidelines, which judges are obliged to comply with, specify medical use as a recognised mitigation. This therefore goes straight to the issue of whether prosecution is in the public interest, which it has to be to proceed.
“As the Cancard is recognised by at least two ‘official’ medical and police sources, it is an extremely powerful tool in defence, let alone mitigation of sentence.
“If I was a betting man, I’d bet heavily on the case being dropped. If it isn’t, any self-respecting judge will want the prosecution to explain why.”
Peter informed me that his opinion is informed by the (informal) advice of his son “who is a criminal defence barrister, defending drugs charges on a daily basis.”
What is the Cancard?
The Cancard is a holographic ID card that is meant to protect the card-holder from arrest and having their medicine confiscated. It informs any police officer that may have stopped the card-holder that they use cannabis for medical reasons.
It’s hoped to dissuade the police from arresting the patient or confiscating their medicine – even if the cannabis was bought from the black market.
It’s available to anyone with a diagnosis for a qualifying condition (confirmed by their GP) that is currently being prescribed privately but cannot afford to fulfil that private prescription. (While medical cannabis has been legal in the UK since 2018, it is all but impossible to get a prescription on the NHS. Therefore, patients must pay for private prescriptions from private clinics.
The list of qualifying conditions is quite broad and includes depression, ADHD, anxiety, arthritis, IBD, chronic pain, fibromyalgia, MS, epilepsy, and a number of conditions related to cancer and chemotherapy.
The initiative was thought up by medical cannabis patient Carly Barton in collaboration with doctors and has the public backing of several MPS and senior police representatives. Not every medical organisation is on board, though.
As well as an ID card, holders can have a digital version of the card on their phone in order to for more convenience.
Comment from Cancard
Posting on Facebook on behalf of Cancard, Carly Barton says:
“We are supporting the patient and his family and will do our best to ensure a positive result for him.
“Drug laws on the Isles are usually pretty harshly policed, certainly more so than the mainland, but a positive result here could set a brilliant precedent.
“We don’t have permission to disclose much about the case as of yet, and we certainly need to be mindful that this is a particularly vulnerable patient, but we will update you as and when we can.”
In May 2021, it was reported that nearly 25,000 people in the UK had signed up for a Cancard since it was launched in January.
During that time, 90 out of 93 stops by police have resulted in no arrests, with patients able to keep their medication, Barton said in an interview with The Cannavist.
All in all, these figures suggest the initiative is working as planned despite some lingering concerns about its legitimacy.
How to get a Cancard
Application to get a Cancard is pretty easy. All you need to be eligible is a diagnosis of a qualifying condition, confirmation of your diagnosis, and then to fill out an application form on the Cancard website.
When you apply online, you will need the following on hand:
- A mobile phone
- Your passport or driver’s licence
- Your NHS number
- Your GP name, email address and practice
- Summary Care Record (if necessary)
The is an initial membership fee of £30.00 as well as an annual renewal fee of £20.00 a year.
Previous Toker case
In 2020, Mr Toker found himself in court after police found a small amount of cannabis behind his sofa after the police searched his address in relation to somebody else.
Despite informing the police it was for his own personal use to help with his anxiety, Toker was given a £40 fine and ordered to pay a £34 surcharge and £40 court costs.
While the Cancard has generally been a success so far, this is the first time it has been presented in court in a bid to have the case thrown out.
If it works, which it may well do, it will set an important precedent as a powerful defence in similar cases, easing the worry for medical cannabis users who can’t afford private prescriptions.
We’ll be keeping an eye on this case closely. What do you think will happen?