Multiple police forces in the UK are trialling a scheme where they give out weed vapes to medicinal cannabis users to reduce the smell of weed in social housing.
Cancard, an advocacy group who provide medicinal weed users with an ID card recognised by police, and a helpline for the police to validate cannabis prescriptions during a stop and search, are behind the scheme. The problem with weed is that, unlike any other drug with the possible exception of mephedrone, the smell lingers like clouds around a mountain top. This sometimes causes complaints in social housing.
“We are currently trialling an inhaler scheme with a few forces in the UK,” Cancard founder Carly Barton told THE FACE. “If a Cancard patient is causing a smell complaint, then the police have access to a free stock of medical inhalers so that an intervention can be made without criminalisation or affecting a vulnerable person’s tenancy.”
Police taking part in the scheme can then deal with more serious crime rather than ferrying themselves back and forth to mediate between sick people who need cannabis and neighbours who are pissed off about the smell.
Cancard currently has around 75,000 members. Since the company was founded in 2020, they have prevented the eviction of almost 300 people who live in social housing through mediation activities. With their free vape scheme, they’re hoping to streamline this process. Smell complaints from neighbours or housing providers is one of the main things that they receive calls for on their helpline, which takes up to 100 calls in one day.
Smoking weed in your house reeks – there isn’t much getting around that. With vaping, though, it’s a different story. “The helpful thing about using a dry-herb vaporiser is that the smell evaporates very quickly and does not linger,” Barton explains. “It also doesn’t travel as far as smoke does, so neighbour complaints often stop when we make this intervention.” With dry-herb vapes, medicated patients and their neighbours can co-exist blissfully without passive-aggressive notes or bitchy comments in a community Facebook group.
Of course, that’s not the only reason that Cancard promotes the use of vaping medical cannabis as opposed to smoking it. “We always advise that the patient use a medical inhaler or vaporiser,” Barton says. “Whilst smoking cannabis is much safer than smoking tobacco, the smoke from cannabis still contains cancer-causing toxins. Vapour does not contain tar or carbon monoxide and is much healthier for the patient’s respiratory system.”
Medical-grade weed vapes are expensive – a Volcano by Storz & Bickel, for instance, costs around £400. And when you consider the hefty cost of legal weed, which is only available on private prescription in the UK, you can appreciate how people are struggling with the price.
But while cost is one issue, ignorance of the law is another. “Polling suggests up to 84 per cent of the general public don’t know medicinal cannabis is legal in the UK,” Barton says. The curtain-twitchers who are ringing the police to report their neighbours likely don’t know that what they are reporting is not a crime. “And real world experiments support this – just ask some folks the next time you’re in a cafe or down the pub.”
She adds: “Campaigns by organisations such as End our Pain and I am Billy have highlighted the devastating effects lack of access has on children, but we still have a way to go until the everyday person in the UK is aware that medicinal cannabis is legal for adults too.”
At the moment, there is no government or Home Office training offered to the police or councils for them to learn about the law surrounding the emerging legal cannabis landscape in the UK. This is a gap that is only filled by Cancard right now, but more public funding on this could prove cost-effective. “It costs £449 to deal with a case of simple cannabis possession,” Barton tells me. “We have saved £1,447,576 of public spending.” Not too shabby during a cost of living crisis.
Now that the police are more aware of the law, hopefully the general public will follow suit. After all, you wouldn’t ring the police on someone taking penicillin to treat an infection, right? So it’s probably not a great vibe to ring the police on patients using cannabis, either.