Cannabis cards: what are the pros and cons?

by Katya Kowalski

Cannabis cards have become a highly disputed and somewhat controversial point of discussion in the industry. 

What are cannabis cards? How have created so much tension between the industry and patient community? Let’s explore the history behind ‘the cannabis card’ and how it’s made its way to the UK.

The history of cannabis cards

Medical cannabis cards have a great deal of history behind them, starting in the US. Originally, cannabis cards in the US were a state-issued identification card that allowed a patient with a doctor’s recommendation to obtain, possess or cultivate cannabis for medical use. The card was necessary because it provided the patient official documentation and backing that their use was medical and accepted. These cards were also a form of ID that were required by patients when purchasing cannabis from a dispensary.

As we know, cannabis is complex and very different to other types of medicine. It is clear that even in the US, medical cannabis hasn’t fit into mainstream medicine, so it’s unlikely to be any different in the UK. So it makes sense for alternative forms of identification being necessary to provide patients legal assurance and backing. 

But what about in the UK? How have they come to be and why has it created so much controversy?


There were a number of cards launched in and around 2020 but the only one that still exists today is Cancard. Cancard was launched in 2020 as an ID card designed to provide a form of amnesty to patients that are unable to afford a legal medical cannabis prescription. The card was originally designed to provide some form of backing that patients in possession of it are using cannabis for a medical purpose (verified by their medical records).

Though it is backed by the Police Federation and Cancard has trained up countless police teams, it still requires police to exercise their discretion, not guaranteeing any immunity from arrest or prosecution. 

Understandably, for many people who possess a legal prescription Cancard does feel like an unnecessary process. Which is fair, but that is not the reason it was designed. Cancard does serve a legitimate purpose for patients that are not legally prescribed and are using illicitly. So, for the time being it works as a way to bridge the gap between the patient populations.

There have, however, been issues that have propped up with the enforcement of Cancard over the years. Legal patients with a prescription have reportedly been stopped and had their medication seized by police due to not possessing a Cancard. This is problematic as it defeats the purpose of a Cancard and demonstrates the confusion among the police around how medical cannabis possession is enforced.

So, despite Cancard’s important role in helping patients that are self-medicating, it does create a lack of clarity and confusion around its purpose to individuals outside of the cannabis community. And that’s only confusion from one of the cards that exists – there’s more.

Clinic and Commercial Cannabis Cards

We’ve been through Cancard, but card-gate doesn’t end there. In the last year, three medical cannabis companies have released their own card for their patients. Releaf, Canndr and Treat It have all launched their own respective cards within the last year. All three schemes are quite similar in providing patients a physical ID card which provides verification of their prescription

Releaf have used the phrase “prove your legal right to carry and use medical cannabis”. They have centred their card offer around making it as easy as possible for patients to prove their legal right to have medical cannabis on them. Essentially these cards provide patients with the ability to access their medical records and prove their current status as a patient if stopped by the police or security.

Without going into too much detail on these commercial cards, why are companies launching them for patients? What are the pros and cons of doing so?

The Pros of Cannabis Cards

1. An ode to the history of medical cannabis

As referenced at the beginning, cannabis is a very unique field of medicine. The use of cards dates back to the beginning of legitimate medical cannabis use in America and served as an important means for patients to identify their legal right to use and possess cannabis for medical purposes. With that said, in the US these cards are State-issued and that is not the case in the UK.

2. Convenient if stopped by the police 

There’s no doubt that having a cannabis card is a convenient item to possess if you get stopped by the police. A lack of education and awareness of the legality of medical cannabis is still a huge problem in the UK. Cards are a useful way of trying to help bypass this issue and push back against the issue of stigma.

3. Comfort for patients

Much like the point above, having a physical card to prove your legitimate, legal use of cannabis can provide a lot of comfort to patients. Many patients worry about criminalisation and discrimination even with a legal prescription. So, some may find a card to be a useful way of proving this status to police and other officers.

The Cons of Cannabis Cards

1. Unnecessary measure that shouldn’t be required

Despite the benefits outlined above, if you are a legal cannabis patient in the UK the only thing that should be required to prove legitimacy is your actual prescription. It could be argued that cards reinforce stigma with cannabis exceptionalism. This can make it feel like you need a card, when the original prescription should provide enough legal backing and information.

2. Creates confusion

Although these cards have largely been designed to be helpful and reduce doubt, oftentimes they end up creating a greater amount of confusion to those enforcing the law. As outlined above, these cards are not legally necessary. So in many ways their existence muddles things further.

3. Privately-owned, commercial and not government backed

This would be a very different conversation if we were discussing a government-backed or government-issued card scheme. However, all of the cards in question are privately owned and commercial. Much like all of the private clinics that exist in the UK, there is no central system or database with patient information, making it difficult to track. Also, the commercialisation of these cards makes it unclear around how data is being collected and used to benefit companies. The fact that cards are not government backed, in many ways, makes them obsolete.


Ultimately, what we care about most at Volteface (and across the sector) is addressing stigma and providing education to those that need it on medical cannabis. We can certainly see the benefits and appeal of introducing cannabis cards as a short-term measure that helps in terms of correcting misinformation and providing education to third parties. However, in the long-term cannabis cards are likely to be a hindrance to patients by containing the drug within its own separate bubble and not addressing the root of the issue.

What do you think about cannabis cards? As a patient, would you get one? Do you think they are a help or a hindrance?

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