THE legal UK medical cannabis industry is a complex one but one thing is for certain – cannabis is legal on prescription. Not through your GP, but through private clinics and on the NHS via specialist consultants.

However, it would appear that Police Scotland may be failing to educate its officers on the intricacies of the situation and, as a result, legitimate patients are being treated like criminals.

Last week, medical cannabis patient Liam Lewis, 29, had his legal cannabis oil confiscated by police in Lerwick, Shetland. Even after he produced a Medcan ID card, a physical prescription and an electronic prescription from Sapphire Medical Clinics to prove his legal medical use, Police Scotland would not return the medication, issued a warning and threatened to charge him for drug possession.

The force said “[Mr Lewis] was unable to provide satisfactory evidence to police that the substance had been prescribed legitimately by a medical professional and when the recorded police warning was given to him he accepted it.”

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However, the evidence Lewis claims they required of him – a prescription from his GP, rather than from Sapphire Medical Clinics – only highlights the lack of understanding Police Scotland has about the process of obtaining legal cannabis.

Police Scotland refused to clarify whether this request was or was not made of Lewis. Lewis also said he initially told officers he did not accept the warning but on being told he must legally accept it or be charged he felt he had no choice.

Now, due to his acceptance of the warning, Lewis has the option to start an appeal against the decision. If successful, he will have his medication returned. Until then (and if unsuccessful), Lewis believes he will be unable to obtain further cannabis medication due to his new record, which may also prevent him from working in certain sectors in the future.

Lewis says: “I’ve been treated like a criminal. One member of the police force accused me of faking my Medcan card and lying ‘to get drugs’. Now, I’m left without the only medication that eases the symptoms of my functional neurological disorder. I’m diabetic, but can’t eat; I’m unable to get out of bed. I’m suicidal. Cannabis makes me come alive. I don’t know how I’m going to cope without it.”

This and other incidences like it highlight the desperate need for better education surrounding medical cannabis use in Scotland.

A Police Scotland representative said: “We provide training to our officers about the illicit use of drugs. We are aware of the increased use of medicinal cannabis, however, it is not an offence to use or be in possession of medicinal cannabis legitimately – so training would not be required.”

Pressed further to confirm if this meant no education was currently given, as the lack of awareness among police would suggest, the force refused to comment.

The incident came on the back of a recent report from iNews that revealed Scotland made the highest number of cannabis seizures in the whole of the UK – topping the charts at 1622 seizures in 2020, up from 1491 in 2019. Ordinarily, this might be seen as a success, indicating a “clean-up” of our local neighbourhoods.

But Scotland’s attitude towards drugs in general is well-known to be in desperate need of an overhaul, to address the country’s alarming drug death rate, which currently stands at three-and-a-half times more than for the UK as a whole and higher than that of any European country.

​READ MORE: Calls in Westminster for wider availability of medical cannabis

With this in mind, the focus on cannabis, a class B drug that is also legally available on prescription, should now be at an all-time low in Scotland, following in the footsteps of EU countries such as the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Switzerland, Germany, Italy and Luxembourg where cannabis has been decriminalised.

However, these statistics show something quite different. Our stop-and-search rate, which has previously been criticised for controversial practice and costing the Scottish tax payer millions, is also on the rise again.

In a recent performance bulletin, Police Scotland reported 32,107 stop and searches were carried out between December 2019 and April 2020 – an increase of 24% on the previous year during the same nine-month period.

Across the UK, 63% of stop and searches were conducted to find drugs. More than 80% of those stop and searches were on suspicion of possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use. This is nothing to celebrate – it’s a blatant waste of police time and money, distracting from combating serious crime.

One example where this was proven was during a pilot in Lambeth, London, where the Met Police were instructed to not arrest people for simple possession of cannabis over a 12-month period. Officers concentrated on more important offences instead, more serious crimes and crimes that were a priority for the community.

While the use of lawful stop and searches can help to tackle violent crime, through the confiscation of weapons, is our emphasis on searching for those in possession of drugs (particularly cannabis, which is more often than not used for medical purposes) distracting our forces from high-priority offences?

​READ MORE: Scots cops call for Scotland to adopt US style regulated cannabis market

In a 2021 report published by the Criminal Justice Inspectorates, HM Inspector of Constabulary Wendy Williams says: “The likely damage to police-community relations caused by large numbers of drugs possession searches, especially those that find nothing, may outweigh the benefits derived from such searches.

“We consider that now is the time to have an evidence-based national debate on the use of stop and search in the policing of controlled drugs.”

What will it take before the Scottish Government, and indeed Police Scotland, realise our archaic enforcement against drug possession is doing considerably more harm than good? When will the education of our officers be moved away from punishment and towards harm reduction and compassion? Are we happy to continue supporting a policy that is evidently ineffective at tackling drug issues, providing an opening for racial disparity and unfair persecution of patients, while taking police time and money away from fighting serious crime? It’s time to demand progressive change.

Ruby Deevoy is a freelance journalist and content writer and founder of the CBD Consultancy