Cannabis is currently a Class B drug in the UK, making it illegal to possess, supply, or grow.
However, with more than half of the British population now in favour of legalisation according to a YouGov poll, and with other countries around the world relaxing their cannabis laws, the question arises: will cannabis ever be legal in the UK?
This article explores the current state of cannabis legislation in the UK, the government’s stance on the issue, and the potential impact of legalisation.
Class B drug
The Labour Party announced in 2001 that cannabis in the UK would be reduced from a Class B drug to a Class C. This signified the maximum penalties for possession and supply were reduced.
That, however, didn’t last very long as it was reinstated as a Class B drug 6 years later, in 2007. Since then, cannabis has remained a Class B drug, which makes it illegal to possess, supply, or grow cannabis.
Possession can land you a maximum of 5 years in prison while supplying cannabis could lead to a potential 14-year sentence.
These penalties come from a nation that is currently one of the leading exporters of medical cannabis in the world, where UK residents are forced to decide between the illicit market or outrageously priced prescriptions.
On the other hand, it seems perspectives on weed in the UK are potentially shifting. This YouGov poll found more than half the people in Britain are now in favour of legislation.
But the question remains: is the UK any closer to legalising cannabis?
What are the government’s opinions?
Well, at this moment in time, it isn’t looking overly optimistic.
The Home Secretary, Suela Braverman, recently stated that she’d like cannabis to be reclassified as a Class A drug – alongside many illicit drugs such as cocaine, for example. Thankfully, officials in No.10 Downing Street swiftly turned down the idea.
Maybe the best chance we have for UK legislation will come from the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who made cannabis decriminalisation part of his 2021 election campaign.
Khan made further headway in May 2022 when he formed the London drugs commission to observe how effective the drug laws in the UK were – the main focus being on cannabis.
Prior to that, however, a leaked report in January 2022 found Khan had launched plans to decriminalise a host of Class B drugs in London which included cannabis, with the aim of preventing people under the age of 25 from going to court and acquiring criminal charges on their record.
Police officers are now being advised to take younger people back home instead of locking them up.
Shifts in police behaviour
As mentioned earlier, the UK still has harsh punishments for getting caught in possession or supplying cannabis.
But there are many police officers who are publicly supporting alternative methods of resolution instead of straight-up criminal convictions. These new methods are called ‘community resolutions’ and will hopefully decriminalise how cannabis is addressed.
Researchers from the House of Commons recently examined police data which found cannabis possession offences fell from 160,000 in 2010/11 to 110,000 in 2019/20.
And there are recent stories from people like Norman Pilcher, the police detective who nicked members of the Rolling Stones as well as John Lennon and Yoko Ono, who admitted his convictions were wrong.
Influence from overseas
It appears the UK is trailing many countries around the world when it comes to cannabis legislation. For example, 18 states across America have now decriminalised cannabis for adult consumption.
While Uruguay was the first country to legalise it in 2013, and Canada followed suit in 2018.
Also, many other countries in Europe like Malta, Luxembourg, and Switzerland have relaxed their policies on cannabis. Arguably the most surprising one is Germany, who look pretty much set to legalise cannabis for adult consumption following years of strict drug laws.
This report estimates cannabis legislation in Germany could benefit their economy by £4 billion per annum, and create nearly 30,000 new jobs.
Despite all this, the UK doesn’t seem to have any major plans for a nationwide shift in cannabis laws.
However, there’s a high chance that the government is taking note of the transformations in policies, attitudes, and tax revenues from our close ties across the pond.
If the positive data continues to be collected over time, the pressure may start to build on the UK government to ease their laws.
Medical cannabis was legalised in the United Kingdom in November 2018.
The decision to legalise medical cannabis followed several high-profile cases in which individuals (including children) with severe medical conditions were denied access to treatment with cannabis-based products, despite evidence suggesting that they could provide significant benefits.
These cases generated significant public and media attention and sparked a national debate about the use of medical cannabis.
In 2018, the UK government announced that it would allow specialist doctors to prescribe medical cannabis to patients with certain conditions, provided that other treatment options had been tried and found to be ineffective or not suitable for the patient’s condition. This change in policy was implemented through an amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001.
Overall, the legalisation of medical cannabis in the UK was a significant step forward in recognising the therapeutic benefits of cannabis and its derivatives for certain medical conditions.
It’s been noted in other countries that the legalisation of medical cannabis can often lead to the legalisation of recreational cannabis a few years later.
Well, it’s been four years since the medical was legalised in the UK, yet we see little demand for a legal recreational industry in public discourse.
Cannabis is currently classified as a Class B drug in the UK, making it illegal to possess, supply, or grow. However, a YouGov poll found that more than half the population of Britain is now in favour of legalisation.
The government’s stance on the issue is that there no plans to change the classification of cannabis. However, the Home Secretary is advocating for reclassification as a Class A drug, while the Mayor of London has formed a commission to examine the effectiveness of drug laws and has launched plans to decriminalise several Class B drugs, including cannabis, in order to prevent young people from acquiring criminal records.
Police behaviour towards cannabis possession and supply has also been shifting, with the use of “community resolutions” instead of criminal convictions becoming more common. Many other countries around the world, including several states in the US, have already legalised or decriminalised cannabis, potentially increasing pressure on the UK to follow suit.
However, at this point, the government says it has no plans to reclassify cannabis so it’s hard to say if it will happen anytime soon.
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