Marios Panteli talks to Jane Hall about the MedCannID card; why it is needed, the work being done to ensure police and others recognise it and what the future holds for the scheme.
MARIOS has been an advocate for the legalisation of cannabis both in the UK and internationally for more than 23 years.
He is the founder and CEO of NuMeds, which since 2018 has been offering medical cannabis products and services. It hit the headlines when it became the first company to provide a private medical cannabis prescription to an adult patient in the UK in February 2019.
At that time NuMeds created a system to support medical cannabis patients, which included an ID card to prove their legal status. This has now been streamlined and was relaunched last year as MedCannID, a free to register scheme which sees patients issued with an identity card certifying they are a legal cannabis user.
It also gives access to an app which securely stores patient data, and is helping tackle the day-to-day stigma many legally prescribed medical cannabis users face at work and in the community.
Some of the benefits of MedCannID include validating a person’s legal patient status to use cannabis on prescription; pre-legal advice and signposting communications in cases of unlawful arrest and confiscation of medication; and legitimising the carrying of medical supplies and equipment, such as a vaporiser and precision scales.
JH: You launched MedCannID in autumn 2020. How is the card doing?
MP: We currently have around 580 members and the numbers have been rising exponentially since the launch of the full app. We launched in September 2020 as a pilot scheme for 100 patients, which we quickly achieved, and in November we introduced the full app. Membership is rising daily by five to 10 patients. The reason for this slow progress is because we have to do identification checks, prescription uploads, and other requirements to be accepted to the system.
There are about 2,500 patients out there, and we are quickly capturing a really good percentage of that group.
JH: The card is currently only valid in the UK. Any plans to roll MedCannID out to other countries?
MP: We are focusing on the UK at the moment, but we have presented the system to patient groups in Portugal, Germany, Poland, and Greece, so there is interest in adopting the card in Europe.
Basically, the moment there exists a legal patient group a necessity for medical ID is automatically required because of law changes. But if all the stakeholders have not been properly trained or informed, we get situations like we have here in the UK now where patients are going to legal clinics, being prescribed legal medications, getting them dispensed by a pharmacy, but law enforcement sees them as criminals.
This is simply due to a lack of communication and inter-departmental chaos between the Home Office, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, and law enforcement. They are not really communicating, so unfortunately we have this necessity for a system like MedCannID which not only benefits the patient, but more importantly makes the law enforcement officers’ decision more informed by providing the evidence required to identify the person as a legal, prescribed medical cannabis patient.
JH: How does the app help combat these issues?
MP: We have specific information in the app as we ask the patient to regularly update their current prescription. They are then able to prove at any one point what they have been prescribed and how much, including things like by whom and a telephone number.
So not only can someone easily identify that they are a member of a large group of medical cannabis patients in the UK, but they can also prove by means of showing their copy of prescriptions stored in the app the amount they are legally being prescribed at any one time.
JH: Police chiefs have publicly backed the use of ‘cannabis cards’ for medicinal use. But isn’t it the case that in practice police working on the ground don’t always accept it.
MP: Unfortunately, there are still some cases being reported, which makes our role even more important. The reality is that anyone who is a MedCannID member is a 100% legal patient and is allowed by law to have in their possession the prescribed type and amount of medication.
If law enforcement haven’t been informed properly, then they are in a position where they are potentially discriminating against legal patients. No knowledge of the law is no excuse for a citizen, and neither is it for a police officer.
I believe that an officer with the right amount of information will make the right decision, which is to let the person carry on with their life. There is no need for illegal confiscation or illegal arrest of one of our members.
We do know, however, that law enforcement has had a very negative view of cannabis due to prohibition. But now they need to enforce the law in relation to the changes which has allowed legal cannabis to exist without harassment or the fear of arrest or confiscation.
Any MedCannID member has gone through a thorough check and prescription confirmation, so if they are stopped and their medication confiscated, I can safely say that 99.9% of the time it will have been an uninformed decision by the law enforcement officer.
JH: How many cases have you heard of where the police have discriminated against patients?
MP: It is a minor percentage at the moment. We have had four cases out of 580 members. However, things that we did not anticipate but we are finding ourselves able to act as a mediator on between MedCannID members and other parties – not just law enforcement – include landlords, accommodation officers, council officers, insurance companies and HR managers about providing their lawful obligations towards a legally prescribed cannabis patient, just like they have to, for example, a diabetic employee, to be able to safely administer insulin.
The card becomes by default a communication medium. You present your card and you can start the conversation with the law enforcement officer, council, HR person, or whoever, as the app has all your information stored. It confirms to any of the stakeholders that you are, in fact, legal.
JH: Why would the police be stopping patients in the first place?
MP: There are a number of loose ends here that need to be clarified to law enforcement, one being what they call ‘paraphernalia’, such as a grinder to crush your prescribed dry herb. It is a medical device. Patients are being prescribed to vaporise, and your therefore need a vaporiser for that purpose. And potentially for the amount of 0.2g to 0.5g, which is usually the amount that people are prescribed per dose, it is impossible to measure out without precision scales.
However, all those three things are equipment that are linked to drug use. If the patient has been prescribed 1g a day, he needs to go about his life with his small bag weighed in advance. Or if the prescription says 0.3g per dose, then potentially three bags of 0.3. That is his dose and how anyone would take their medication out of the house.
If that patient is to vaporise they could potentially have the need as prescribed by their doctor to carry an extra amount. So that person is coming out of the house with his three doses of 0.3g, his extra amount, his scales so he can then measure that amount, and a vaporiser.
If they are stopped by a law enforcement officer they will immediately be considered a street dealer. So, where does the patient stand in all of this? With MedCannID you can prove not only that you are prescribed to vaporise and that is why you carry a vaporiser, but that you’re prescribed 0.3g and that’s why you’re carrying your three bags and why you have your scales to measure that outside the house if needed.
JH: Do you have some sympathy with law enforcement officers and the predicament they may find themselves in?
MP: I have to admit, even though I am for the patients’ rights, it is not fair for a law enforcement officer to do their job when they haven’t been fully informed of what is going on. Hopefully MedCannID can perform that role, making a bridge and keeping everyone updated on the current regulations.
Up to 120g can be prescribed now due to Covid. That is a lot of herb that a patient is being prescribed, and with the existence of scales and other types of paraphernalia with regards to law enforcement, it is really difficult for them to assess something like that.
JH: Do you have any plans for improving MedCannID?
MP: We will be launching version two of the app around Easter to include both a directory of prescribing clinics and a digital catalogue of available products being prescribed alongside their specifications. We will also be starting an exclusive patient forum for MedCannID members so they can review their experiences with medications, pharmacies and clinics. That’s all something to look forward to!