With Germany moving to legalise cannabis, joining Uruguay, Canada, Malta and some American states, does it look like the United Kingdom will follow suit? If the German coalition government forges ahead, it will be the biggest country to legalise marijuana yet. The UK’s cannabis law does not look poised to do the same. But with the legalisation of medicinal cannabis in 2018, it is arguable that the nation’s position on the drug is softening.
As the United Kingdom comprises three separate jurisdictions, this article will focus on England and Wales. We will be outlining the past and current legislation relating to cannabis.
Is cannabis legal in the UK? Current Cannabis Laws in England and Wales
Current cannabis law in England and Wales states that it is illegal to possess, grow, distribute or sell cannabis. The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 categorises cannabis as a class B drug. In 2018, the Home Office found that 15,120 people in England and Wales had been prosecuted for possession of cannabis.
As a class B drug, possession of cannabis currently carries a 5 year prison sentence, an unlimited fine, or both. If you are caught supplying and producing cannabis, you can risk up to fourteen years in prison, as well as an unlimited fine or both.
It’s important to note that you can be charged with possession whether or not the drugs are yours. The penalty you receive is variable. It will be calculated on how much and where it is found, your personal history, and any other mitigating factors.
The police are empowered to issue a warning or an ‘on-the-spot’ fine of £90 if you are found in possession of cannabis.
Is medical cannabis legal in the UK?
In 2018, medical use of cannabis in specific circumstances became legal after amendments to the Misuse of Drugs Regulation. The changes made allowances for the prescription of unlicensed cannabis based medicine by licensed doctors in specific circumstances.
Developments in UK Cannabis Law
The Medical Cannabis (Access) Bill which aims to improve access to cannabis for medical reasons (and connected purposes) had its second reading on the 6th May.
If passed, the Bill will require the General Medical Council (GMC) to ‘operate a register of General Practioners (GPs) who may prescribe cannabis-based products in England’, and will extend permission to GPs on the register to prescribe such drugs in circumstances where the current law only allows consultants to do so. It will also establish a commission that will build a framework for the ‘assessment of cannabis-based medicines and their suitably for NHS prescription in England’ that will work alongside the MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory agency).
The Bill addresses concerns that there is reluctance amongst clinicians to prescribe cannabis-based products, drawing on findings from an NHS report entitled ‘barriers to accessing cannabis-based products for medicinal use on NHS prescription’.
Debate around cannabis reform
Debate around cannabis reform is fierce from both sides. Organisations such as Health Poverty Action are stalwart advocates for the legalisation of marijuana. Supporters cite a regulated market as the most effective approach to drugs. Through regulation, the government would be able to protect vulnerable parties and reinforce public health. They also point to the potential economic benefit (both from new tax income and savings) of legalisation. Arguing that this would create additional resources for the UK government.
Indeed, early this year, London Mayor Sadiq Khan proposed new rules that will effectively serve to decriminalise class B drug offences for young people in the capital found with cannabis, ketamine and speed.
With 48% of voters in favour of legalising recreational marijuana, it seems options are starting to shift.
However, the UK government has no plans to legalise cannabis for recreational use due to the clear scientific evidence that it is harmful to mental and physical health and the clear risk it poses to public health.
Frequently asked questions
Is weed legal in the UK?
Recreational use of cannabis is illegal. In certain medical situations, it is legal for a licensed doctor to prescribe cannabis-based medicine.
Where is weed legal?
It is legal in Canada, Georgia, Malta, Mexico, South Africa, Uruguay and 18 states in the United States. Although it is advisable to check specific legislation to understand what kind of marijuana is legal.