Medical Cannabis Needs You!

Legalisation in 2018 was the beginning, not the end, of the battle for patients' rights and to end the canna-stigma.

by Clark French

Victorious after Billy and Charlotte Caldwell’s bold struggle to change the legal status of medicinal cannabis in the UK in 2018, 20,000 patients have joined a new front line in the ‘war on drugs’. Far from defeat, patients find themselves in a new position of – having fought for their rights, they are now fighting to keep them. 

As the ‘war on drugs’ rages on, the consequences for most of those fighting hasn’t changed. A negative mindset has been entrenched amongst the masses in this country the since the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. For some, the negative consequences have lessened. But why?

A new weapon could turn the tide of the war – no longer do patients need to fight for their rights – there is now legal access to cannabis based medicines. Rather than fighting for our rights, it is now our job to enforce them. The legal status of medicinal cannabis is widely unknown, and this can cause several problems for patients. 

Firstly, it creates an issue where patients still feel the need to be in the ‘right mood’ to deal with what is most often social stigma and ignorance. Whist you would have thought the legal status of cannabis flowers would have changed many social attitudes towards cannabis, patients face the issue of having to explain that they have been prescribed cannabis and are not in fact criminals.

Another issue is that you never know who you are going to meet and how they are going to treat you. I have personally faced stigma in hospital as well as in private establishments. In one instance one staff member told me there was no problem and to go ahead and take my medicine as I like, however another staff member took a disliking to it and would not let me exit the premises to vape and come back in.

Often it is the case that an email in advance can help, but I have faced issues getting responses from venues and a complete lack of awareness. People are stuck dumbfounded by a patient simply informing them that they will have their medicine, and it can become a quagmire of red tape which can still prevent patients from going out. It’s far from perfect. Even with our prescriptions people can still be negative.

 Many years have gone into the propaganda campaigns to demonise cannabis and ‘skunk’ and sadly many people have bought into it. Some people have had issues and adverse side effects from the consequences of only high-THC cannabis being readily available, and the complete lack of help whist people are still consuming cannabis illegally.

This is something I have faced throughout my whole campaigning history – whatever organisation I have been representing, I have had to argue against this rhetoric i.e., “is not the same that used to be smoked back in the day” “it will cause mental health problems” – when for the most part we know the opposite to be true.

For many people, consuming cannabis is beneficial for their mental health, however the NHS will deny access to mental health services to those who admit to taking cannabis illegally, but will back down as soon as that person has a private prescription.

This happens often but was documented by Simpa Carter recently, when I asked him about his recent experience, he said “Engaging in a struggle with NHS mental health services for so long and subsequently being denied has left me feeling betrayed, abandoned, and disenfranchised with the health service.  As I have been unfairly stigmatised for my historic and on-going use of cannabis, I had hoped that obtaining a private prescription would help me access the service and care they recommended, should I cease consuming cannabis.

However, having gained a private medicinal cannabis prescription, I am currently still being denied access to recommended medications, clinical therapies, and assessment. I am also still being discriminated against by individual healthcare providers who are using their personal prejudice rather than professional judgement to prevent me from accessing further service while I continue to use cannabis, regardless of its legitimacy and legality.” 

I have heard many disparaging comments on the new medical system for accessing cannabis, and its true that currently there are many flaws. However, the protection that a private cannabis prescription gives patients is second to none. There have been some patients that have faced issues with it however that is the same with any new system. The teething issues are working out in favour of patients and I this is something that is being hugely overlooked. The legacy market may provide better quality cannabis, but the police being on your side for the first time is priceless.

It’s sad that people who consume cannabis still have a bad reputation and that’s what I believe it is so important to fight this stigma head-on, with our new get out of jail card. Unfortunately, this isn’t free and our get out of jail cards comes with a cost – one that is in my opinion worth it, but not everyone agrees. It seems I am in the minority, as only a tiny number of patients have paid for the paperwork, instead preferring to stick with their legacy market contacts.

For some this is stubbornness, I know it took me some time to get my head around the idea. For others it seems cost is the biggest issue, but with some clinics offering free consultations to patients on benefits and others offering £50 per 3 months and offering flowers at £5 a gram the tide has changed. Much of that can be directly attributed to Project 2021’s subsidies taking the prices down to £5 a gram. And as a result, much of the industry has followed and reduced its pricing.

I was quite happy with Leva Clinic, paying £99 every 3 months and £150 a month for 30g of flowers (it worked out at £183 a month for 30g of green gelato 23% THC). I didn’t LOVE any of the strains, most of them were okay and certainly had THC present which reduced my pain levels. For me this was worth the price to be legal and be able to go about my life as normal.

Did I get stared at, yes of course I did, one woman shook her head as I medicated at a café table outside, until I took out my prescription pot and her anger visibly melted as she realised it must be prescribed. It really is madness that the smell evokes such a reaction from people, it’s frustrating but it calls for bravery in the face of the oppressor.

Prohibition has benefitted from the ‘otherness’ of cannabis and cannabis consumers, and I am fed up with it. I want to take my place WITHIN the society that I come from, I want to be present and to do that it means that some people are going to have to put up with the smell of vaporised cannabis. My right to not be in pain trumps someone else’s “right” to not smell cannabis. I mean its not nice when someone is smoking a cigarette near you, but you must put up with it for the most part. I think it is time that as a community we move forward and pay the fee to become legal.

It is only because medical cannabis is in its infancy that we even find ourselves here. We must start somewhere and that starts with each of us. I would encourage patients to sign up and become legal, to go to their local community and to demand acceptance. It won’t be easy, but we now have the law on our side which will make a huge difference. The war is far from over, but we have a new immunity from the negative consequences of prohibition.

I spoke to Lesley Gibson of THC4MS, a veteran cannabis campaigner about her recent case, who said that “on the plus side it was comforting to know I was no longer arrestable, even though I was still very wary of police, as I have never had a good experience with them and feel that another arrest would be too much for me to handle. It made me feel that at last I was being believed”

This feeling of being believed is incredibly important, as patients now have the legitimacy of legal medicinal cannabis which will allow people to enforce their rights, rather than having to fight for them. Obtaining a legal cannabis prescription allows patients to exist in society and consume their medicine without fear of being stigmatised or reprimanded, which is essential to the healing process. Patients should not be forced to hide away to heal themselves and we still have a long way to go before this medicine is fully accepted in our society.

Unfortunately, the smell of vaporised cannabis can put people off, but our right to consume our medicine trumps any right to not have to smell something undesirable. If you are a patient who is consuming cannabis on the legacy market it is time to bite the bullet and join the new front line.

The only way we can progress is by enforcing our rights to consume the medication which we know works the best for us. Cannabis needs you – so don’t hesitate or delay, join the new front line today!

Written by Clark French. Clark is an MS patient and medical cannabis user and campaigner, Founder of the United Patients Alliance. Tweets @clarkfrenchuk.

Featured image reproduced under CC: 1330474347

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