The Home Office is reviewing the £3,655 cost of medicinal cannabis licences after it emerged that a new panel to provide patients with access to the schedule 1 drug had received almost no applications.
It is has been reported that fewer than five applications have been received as patients have cast doubt on whether the panel is fit for purpose.
Activists are calling on the government to expedite the process and abolish the fees since there are hundreds of thousands patients who live with conditions such as epilepsy, MS, Crohn's disease and cancer for whom cannabis could potentially relieve suffering.
“The swift response by the government this past month will be undermined if these fees are imposed at the end of the license process,” said Steve Moore, the director of Volteface, a think tank that has called for drug policy reform.
“I would call on the government to abolish these fees with immediate effect.”
After the well-publicised plight of Billy Caldwell caused the government to effectively recognise the medicinal benefits of cannabis, clinicians on the General Medical Council’s specialist register can now apply for a license on behalf of their patients.
For NHS patients, the fee is paid by a hospital trust and it was unclear how proactive individual trusts were being to assist applicants.
The 11-page form, which notes “very few” patients will qualify, must detail all of the drugs prescribed to the person with a “comprehensive” explanation of why they are “genuinely clinically exceptional”.
On Saturday, Sophia Gibson became the first person to be granted a long-term licence for the use of medicinal cannabis in the UK under the new system.
Sir Mike Penning, who chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Medical Cannabis, said it marked a key milestone.
"I hope her success offers hope to the many hundreds who also want access,” he told the BBC.
"Our priority is now rescheduling medical cannabis, so families don't have to use the flawed panel and doctors can prescribe medical cannabis for patients that need it."
Lara Smith, who experiences chronic pain and travels to Amsterdam to access cannabis, told The Times that she would not be applying to the panel due to the costs, which she described as “farcical” and “prohibitive”, serving as a deterrent.
Meanwhile, the mother of Alfie Dingley - who was granted a licenCe following a high-profile campaign - legally brought five months' worth of medicinal cannabis oil into the UK on Tuesday in the first-known such case since the government paved the way for reform.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The Home Office is committed to reviewing the fees paid for licences that are awarded as a result of the advice of the expert panel. That review will take place urgently and will conclude before summer recess.”