The past few years have seen an undeniable shift in people’s attitudes towards cannabis. Modern research on its medicinal uses has led this controversial plant to be legalized in many places, and marijuana can now be purchased for medicinal use in more than half of US states.
In some states, cannabis can also be legally used for recreational purposes, although these places are in the minority.
Many European countries are now following suit, with weed being decriminalized in a number of places including Portugal, Spain, and of course, the Netherlands. The UK has been slow to catch up, but that could all be set to change in the not-too-distant future.
Read on to find out more about the legal status of weed in the UK and how it could affect recreational and medicinal users alike.
Cannabis Laws on Whether or Not Weed is legal in UK
Current UK drug laws have been in place since the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act, which came into force almost 50 years ago. This law categorizes cannabis as an illegal, class B substance alongside drugs like amphetamines, barbiturates, ketamine, and codeine.
The maximum penalties for possession of these drugs could include an unlimited fine, up to five years in prison, or both. For supplying or producing a class B drug you could face an unlimited fine, up to 14 years in prison, or both.
It is unclear exactly what amount of cannabis is classed as being for personal use, and how much constitutes an intention to supply. What is clear is that distributing marijuana in any way is classed as supplying the drug and may carry steeper penalties. This definition includes giving it away for free, or even picking up a few grams for a friend at the same time as collecting your own. You may also face harsher penalties if the police search your home and find large amounts of weed along with other equipment such as baggies and scales.
What if You are Caught with Cannabis in the UK?
Most adult, first-time offenders caught with small amounts of marijuana will be issued with an on-the-spot warning, and have the substance seized by police. This warning is recorded, but will not show up on Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) or Criminal Record Bureau (CRB) checks, which are required by some employers. Those under the age of 18 may have to accompany police to the local station for further investigations.
People caught with cannabis for the second time will be issued with what is known as a Penalty Notice for Disorder (PND). This is a £90 fine which must be paid within 21 days to avoid further action being taken. You can request a trial if you disagree with this fine being issued, but if you go to court and lose, the fees are likely to be much higher.
If you fail to pay a PND on time, or if you are found in possession of cannabis for the third time, then you can be arrested, taken to the police station and possibly charged. Convictions are more likely if you were found smoking in a public place or are a repeat offender.
This “three strikes” policy was introduced to take some of the pressure off overstretched police departments, allowing them to focus their attention on far more serious crimes. However, if you are caught driving under the influence of cannabis, the law is much less flexible.
If the police suspect that you are under the influence while on the road, they can pull you over and carry out roadside assessments. These include testing your ability to walk in a straight line, and a roadside screening kit screen for cannabis. If you are found to have illegal levels of weed in your system, you could face a one-year driving ban, unlimited fines, and up to six months in prison (up to 14 years if there is a death).
Although in the UK many cases of marijuana use go unpunished, it is still technically illegal, both for medicinal and recreational use. As much as people have campaigned to change this over the years, there are still those who are dead against legalizing weed in any form.
Let’s take a look at some common arguments for and against the legalization of cannabis in the UK, and how we may see attitudes shift over the next few years.
Should Weed be Legal in the UK?
For a brief time, cannabis was reclassified from a class B to a class C substance in the UK. This change in the law came about in 2004 and saw penalties for possession of cannabis greatly reduced. However, in 2009, the government reversed this decision and cannabis became a class B once again.
The reasoning behind this decision was a concern for public health, specifically with regard to marijuana-induced psychosis and schizophrenia.
The link between cannabis and the development of mental illness is one argument which people who are against legalization often use to support their case. While there is some scientific evidence of this relationship, the decriminalization of cannabis may not necessarily mean an increase in cases of psychosis. In fact, one study on the effect of reclassification of cannabis on hospital admissions for cannabis psychosis found quite the opposite.
Between 1999 and 2004, hospital admissions for cannabis-related psychosis were on the rise. However, when the drug was reclassified from a class B to a class C in 2004, the number of admissions fell. In 2009, when cannabis was once again reclassified as a class B, admissions began to rise again.
It is unclear exactly what caused the unexpected results of this study, but it is interesting nonetheless. It also goes some way towards disproving those who insist that the legalization of weed will lead to more cases of psychosis and schizophrenia.
Other arguments against the legalization of marijuana include the idea that it acts as a “gateway drug”, increasing the likelihood that its users will go on to use other illicit substances and risk addiction. There is some limited evidence that this is true, but it appears that cannabis is no worse than nicotine or alcohol in this respect.
Those who believe that cannabis should be decriminalized argue that the substance would be easier to control if it were legal. Being able to buy cannabis from properly licensed stores could also reduce the need for users to seek out drug dealers, and decrease the likelihood of them being offered other illegal substances.
The legalization of weed could also boost the economy, creating new jobs and businesses, not to mention the extra taxes it would bring in. Legalizing medical marijuana could also help the struggling National Health Service (NHS) whose budget is famously tight. In the US, researchers have discovered that in states where medical marijuana is legal, prescribing of other medication falls, saving as much as $165.2 million a year.
Medical Marijuana Laws in the UK
In the summer of 2018, a landmark medical marijuana case took the media by storm. Charlotte Caldwell, the mother of a boy with severe epilepsy, traveled to Canada (where medical marijuana is legal) and returned with six months’ supply of cannabis oil, the only thing that she had found to help her son’s seizures.
On her return to the UK this was, unsurprisingly, confiscated by border officials. However, when her son was hospitalized and in a “life-threatening” condition just a few days later, the government was forced to issue an emergency license for the boy and his medication was returned.
This case prompted a rapid shift in the UK government’s stance on medical marijuana, with the BBC reporting that cannabis oil would now be legal for those with an “exceptional clinical need”, although other forms of the drug would remain illegal.
People in the UK wishing to use cannabis for medicinal purposes may still have a little while to wait. However, CBD products are classed as a medicine and as such cannot be purchased by UK nationals for personal use, unless it is specifically stated that the CBD oil is a “food supplement” and has no medicinal use, even though it is exactly the same. Another option is the drug nabiximols (Sativex), which is derived from the cannabis plant and is licensed for the treatment of spasticity in multiple sclerosis (MS).
Final Thoughts on the Topic “Is Weed Legal in UK 2018”
Cannabis is still very much illegal in the UK, although there is a “three strikes” policy for first-time offenders who are found with small amounts of weed. On the whole, the police are more concerned with serious crimes, but if you are caught with weed more than once, you could face a fine or even time in prison.
Recent high-profile cases have meant that medical marijuana may soon be available in the UK, although it is likely to be strictly controlled. It also looks like the full legalization of cannabis is still a long way off.
The good news is that attitudes are changing and cannabis is now talked about more openly than ever, so weed lovers in the UK will just have to sit tight and see what the few years bring.