Since ancient times, cannabis has spread successfully across the entire globe, gracing lands and people from far-east Asia to the Americas. But much of this expansion occurred at a time before tight regulations and laws prohibited the free movement of this valuable medicinal plant. Even today, firm restrictions remain in place over the transport of cannabis – even medical cannabis acquired with a legal prescription. But as more and more patients slowly begin to gain freer access to medical cannabis, what are the actual rules around travelling?
In the UK, legal barriers to medical cannabis persist despite the government’s rescheduling of the drug way back in 2018 (over four years ago). Nonetheless, with over 17,000 patients now accessing medical cannabis through legal channels, high-quality resources and education are vital. This is especially important when it comes to travelling with medical cannabis – after all, the penalties for getting it wrong can carry a heavy cost. The recent high-profile case of US basketballer Brittney Griner is just one example of how serious the repercussions can be when things go wrong.
Where is medical cannabis legal?
Now that Christmas is over, many of us might be thinking about our next holiday. For most people, the world is, literally, their oyster – but people with a medical cannabis prescription have the added stress of wondering whether their medicine is permitted in their next holiday or travel destination. So, where is medical cannabis legal around the world?
The good news is that medical cannabis is now legal in many European countries and also much further afield. Countries including France, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, the Netherlands, Portugal, Greece, Australia and New Zealand (just to name a few) now allow the medicinal use of cannabis. A simple Google search should tell you whether any country of interest has legalised medical cannabis; however, while this may be a good place to start, advice from the Medical Cannabis Clinicians Society state that you should always contact the country’s embassy in the UK for the most up-to-date and reliable information.
Just because medical cannabis is legal in a country, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you are free to travel there with products prescribed in the UK. Speaking to an official at the country’s embassy will help to clear up any doubts or confusion on the matter.
Contacting an embassy
Contact details for embassies in the UK can be found with a simple search online. From there, you can communicate your query and you should be directed to the right place. As mentioned above, heading to a place where medical cannabis is legal is not always a guarantee that you are safe to take your medical cannabis prescription with you.
Some countries may require a written letter from your clinician while others will require you to gain advance permission from the embassy. It is also likely that a limit will be applied to the amount of medication you can travel with (for example, up to 30 days’ worth of medical cannabis).
If your destination country requires a letter from your clinician, this letter should include:
- The traveller’s name and date of birth;
- Destination country and length of stay;
- A list of the prescribed medications, how much is being transported, and the strength and dose;
- The signature of the prescribing clinician.
If you get the go-ahead – great! But also remember to consider any possible flight transfers you may have in other countries on your way to or back from your destination. It is also recommended that you always keep your medication on your person with a copy of your prescription and your letter from your clinician and/or permission from the embassy.
Procedure at the airport
There is little easily available information online regarding the protocol when taking medical cannabis to an international airport. The best recommendation is to follow NHS and GOV.uk advice on travelling with a controlled medicine. This includes – as stated above – travelling with proof of your prescription and a letter from your clinician. In some cases, you may also require a personal license for your medication (the embassy should be able to tell you if this will is necessary).
You should also always keep your medication in its original packaging with a copy of your prescription. In the absence of detailed instructions, it may be assumed that you should pack your medical cannabis in the same way that you would any other medical prescription. In the best-case scenario, you might get through customs at both airports smoothly without having to explain your prescription to anyone. However, being prepared and having everything in order as listed in this article is highly recommended.
Even after following all of the above recommendations, it is, unfortunately, far from guaranteed that you won’t face any problems. The main reason for this is a persisting lack of awareness and education within the police and border control regarding the legality of medical cannabis in the UK and the correct protocol. The fact is that guidance is simply not being circulated from the relevant authorities in a clear and effective way. This confusion has led to confiscations of medication – even when patients are carrying proof of their prescription.
Medical cannabis patients are still facing issues when travelling with their medicine – even within the borders of the UK. Over four years after the legalisation of medical cannabis, this is an unacceptable situation. More needs to be done to educate the authorities and provide medical cannabis patients with the information and resources they need to set their minds at ease when travelling with a legal medical cannabis prescription.