Is weed legal in the UK? Well, if you’ve ever visited Amsterdam, sat in a coffee shop, and enjoyed some of life’s finest dry herbs in comfort, it may have been difficult to imagine a world where weed wasn’t legal. However, in the UK, cannabis possession and use is harshly dealt with in comparison to the Netherlands. But how can the treatment of weed be so different from two places separated by the same distance as from Brighton to Leeds? The truth is, weed is a touchy topic in the UK. Whilst many countries around the globe begin to ease their reaction to cannabis, and have started to see the benefits of nationalizing the industry, the UK, it seems, has remained pretty stern. Or has it? In this article we are going to delve into the progression of weed legalization in the UK. As always, strap yourself in. Let’s go!
The UK’s View On Cannabis
Is Weed legal in the UK? The short answer is no. But let’s look a little deeper. The UK, as it stands, has a reasonably consistent law on drugs within all the countries: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Since the Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA) of 1971, drugs have been split into a tier system. This categorizes them into different classes depending on how dangerous the government believes they are, or so, that’s the reason they claim is behind their categorisation of drugs into classes.
Here is a brief overview of the classes:
Cocaine, crack, Ecstasy, Heroin, LSD, Methadone, Crystal Meth, fresh and prepared magic mushrooms (even though the NHS are now testing this ‘class A drug’ for it’s positive effects on depression) and others.
Amphetamine, Codeine, Ketamine, Cannabis and others.
Anabolic Steroids, Minor Tranquilizers and Benzodiazepines, GBL, GHB and others.
As you can see, weed sits in the Class B category, which has been surrounded by a lot of controversy due to the fact it has multiple proven medicinal uses and benefits. In fact, in 2004, Cannabis was placed into the Class C category, which takes away the threat of arrest for prosecution. But weed was then returned back to Class B by Gordon Frown (oops, I meant Brown) in 2008, meaning arrest was possible again (regardless of the amount someone possesses). However, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, with every kind hearted intention disagreed with Brown’s decision. The UK’s class category system might look well-organised and sensical, however it brings about a certain level of doubt due to the inconsistencies when it’s being implemented.
What Happens If You Get Caught With Weed?
Cannabis holds the title as the most consumed drug in the UK and most likely all over the world (apart from Colombia lol) with 30% of 18-24 year olds having consumed weed. So, how harsh are the police when faced with cannabis possession? Well, each class tier has different punishments given if found with these substances. At the moment, if you are found in possession of weed the maximum sentence is 5 years plus a blank cheque fine. However, the sentence can go up to 14 years if the police have reason to believe you have intent to supply. The harsh truth is that any amount of weed – 1 joint to 3 ounces – will be dealt with differently, depending on the police officer (and some would say also on which ethnic minority you’re from). However, usually, if it’s your first time found with cannabis, you will be given a warning. If you are found in possession again, you could be given an on-the-spot £90 fine.
There was a time when drink-driving was the only real prosecutable threat on the road when it came to intoxication. However, the well-known ‘breathalyzer’ was given a sibling, the ‘drugalyzer’ and if you haven’t seen one yet then just drive in zigzags next time you pass a police car (please take that with a pinch of salt and drive safely!). Much like the breathalyzer, which can test a driver for alcohol, the drugalyzer is able to use the saliva of the driver to observe if they have been consuming drugs such as cannabis, cocaine, ketamine and more. However, the difficulty that the authorities are having is knowing how much cannabis would constitute being ‘over the limit’. Cannabis sits in your system in a different way to the way alcohol does, and furthermore, it often will make a driver go slower, whereas alcohol usually makes a driver go faster. Since driving at a faster speed is one of the main causes of road accidents then statistically you are much less likely to be involved in a crash if you are high on weed, than if you are drunk. Therefore, whilst driving high is illegal, and will be dealt with based on the severity of the situation, it has not become a ‘serious’ problem (like the issue with drink-driving has).
‘But what happens if I’m found with a little bit of cannabis on me, and it’s obvious I’m only using it for myself?’. Well, as you are probably starting to realise, the law on cannabis possession in the UK is highly subjective, confusing and usually correlates with where you are, who you are and who the police officer is. But the authorities do have a ‘three-strike policy’, which essentially means if you are found with a minimal amount of cannabis (not enough that would suggest intent to supply), you will be given three-strikes before any serious action is taken.
Growing cannabis is still illegal in the UK. However, again, it does happen, and the authorities are most definitely aware of this. If you are discovered growing a few cannabis plants at home, then the police may turn a blind eye and issue a warning. Again, a few plants doesn’t suggest intent to supply. However, more than a few, and you could be prosecuted as a ‘cannabis farm’ under the Misuse of Drugs Act. Oddly enough, owning hemp seeds is legal. Much like owning any of the accessories you can get with consuming weed is legal. It’s only the cannabis itself that is illegal.
What About Medicinal Marijuana?
Although the UK still remains harsh with its laws on cannabis, you’d hope that the authorities will have acknowledged the many benefits that weed can have medicinally. For example, helping with mental health issues such as anxiety, and also with pain relief. Well, funnily enough, the UK actually accounted for almost 50% of the world’s medicinal marijuana production in 2016. This was to increase research into a cannabis-drug known as Sativex.
In 2018, the UK had one of its biggest legal changes in their view of medicinal cannabis, and it became legal for therapeutic purposes. This change of heart from the UK started after the well-known Billy Caldwell case. Billy was a young boy who suffered from Epilepsy, which was treated best with cannabis oil, and his mother had to travel to the US and Canada in order to get it. However, it was taken from her when returning to the UK airport and following an epileptic fit Billy was rushed to hospital. Only then did the UK allow for Billy to have a medicinal dose.
However, the journey of medicinal marijuana in the UK since 2018 has not been an easy one. Whilst the law may have changed, the mind’s in charge have been slower to follow suit. Many NHS doctors do not know when the right occasion is to issue medicinal cannabis, and therefore, prescriptions have been few and far between. In fact, some prescriptions can cost as much as £50,000 per year. The UK might be moving towards legalization, but if so, it is moving extremely slowly.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom. In 2016 the NHS reported that magic mushrooms showed ‘promising’ signs of helping people with depression. The state of euphoria and spiritual insight caused by the drugs were recognised as beneficial to those suffering with depression and anxiety. Although this isn’t directly linked to marijuana, it’s a huge step in accepting that drugs can have therapeutic benefits. If the NHS starts to see drugs as having the potential to help rather than only deteriorate, then maybe we are closer to more commonly used medicinal cannabis than we previously thought.
In 2020, the UK government introduced the cannacard, which will (hopefully) allow 1 million people who need it, to smoke medicinal marijuana. Anyone who believes they need one can apply and, supposedly, it should be a lot easier than previously. And a lot less expensive than the private prescriptions. However, it still may cost around 1,000 pounds a month for the prescription. Although some may be exempt if they can’t afford it and will be helped out. This is a completely new idea and still very fresh so we will have to see how it works out. But perhaps it does show signs of a brighter future with legal weed in the UK.
A quick and exciting piece of juicy information for you here (for those who don’t know already)! CBD is in fact legal in the UK. Due to the UK government’s ‘out of sight, out of mind’ approach on drugs, and the terrible drug-education programmes, not many people are aware that some components of cannabis are legal on their own. But, what is CBD? CBD accounts for 40% of the cannabis substance, and does not have the psychoactive effects that usually come with compounds like THC. Therefore, CBD oil and other products are legal!
What Will The Future Hold For Weed Legalization?
A lot of the UK’s view on cannabis is inconsistent and confusing. It’s without a doubt that the world is beginning to turn towards a different view on weed, a drug which goes back thousands of years, with many countries easing their laws. This new-world view is that it’s better to control cannabis’ production and utilise its benefits, rather than turn our back on it and pretend it doesn’t exist. However, it must be said that the stiff upper lip of the UK may take time to ease. Therefore, the most change anyone can hope for is for medical marijuana to become more common and allowed in the UK in the next few years. In the meantime, enjoy the legal CBD products available if you wish, and stay safe.
We hope you enjoyed this article and, most importantly, found it educational. Until next time.