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Published on 7 October 2007  by encod

UNITED KINGDOM

LEGAL STATUS OF CANNABIS



All the versions of this article: [English]





1. Consumption and possession

Cannabis use is illegal in the UK. However, there is now a presumption against arrest for those caught with it in their possession. This means that, unless the following conditions are breached, anyone caught possessing cannabis will most likely receive an informal warning and have their cannabis confiscated.

The conditions which could lead to arrest are:

1) Smoking openly

2) Smoking repeatedly

3) Being under 18

4) Smoking near under 18 year-olds

5) If the use is deemed by the police to be part of a wider social problem

As with many other laws in Britain, there is often a great difference between the letter of the law and how the law is implemented. In practice it is unlikely that anyone caught possessing cannabis will now be arrested. There is no provision for the therapeutic use of cannabis in UK law. Despite this, it is unusual for anyone with a recognised medical condition to be prosecuted for possession. There is a no allowance in UK law for medicinal use, no differentiation in usage, no defence of medicinal use, cannabis remains scheduled as a drug with no medical value.

That said, small scale possession by people with obvious physical ailments may be ignored by some police. On the other hand, there is an increasing argument that can be called as ’cannabis psychosis’ which is quite a resemblance of the ’reefer madness’; this time supported by some hypothesis from researchers about the strength of contemporary cannabis or skunk. This has alerted some
parents and social perception, who might consider that today’s cannabis is not the wacky-backy grass of the happy 60s. But actually there is no hard evidence to support that hypothesis at all. Although the incidence of cannabis use is many times higher especially amongst teenagers than years ago, the incidence of psychosis has not increased.

Although there has been enough pressure for significant changes in cannabis legislation, government and politicians are still reluctant to implement changes toward decriminalization or legalization even for medical purposes. The fact is that UK cannabis policy requires of a deep examination on its grey areas, and the possibility of going further the downgrading of cannabis toward the medicalization of cannabis or the acceptance of cannabis as an important part of the economy.

2. Cultivation

Cultivation is illegal in the UK and carries a maximum penalty of 14 years. Despite this the police and courts are taking an increasingly lenient line toward those who grow a small number of plants and especially those who grow for medicinal needs. The approach of the police differs from area to area, however. Those caught growing in rural areas are more likely to receive heavier punishment than those caught in cities.

3. Distribution

The distribution or supply of cannabis is illegal in the UK and again carries a maximum penalty of 14 years. The maximum penalty is rarely, if ever, enforced and would generally only apply to those importing very large quantities and to those with many previous convictions. Most people caught with around a kilo would probably be accused of possession with intent to supply and possibly imprisoned for a year.

4. Provision of seeds, tools to produce and consume cannabis etc.

All growing equipment and cannabis paraphernalia is legal in the UK. The law is broken only when the equipment is used.

5. Production and distribution of hemp products

It is legal to produce and distribute hemp products in the UK. However, currently police forces are attempting to draw up guidelines to ensure that shops selling, for example, hydroponic equipment are not also selling pipes and bongs / cannabis growbooks / seeds. The shops are reaction by displaying clarified disclaimers but many shops have stopped selling those items together

Contact for Cannabis Activism in the United Kingdom:

Legalize Cannabis Alliance

POLICIES ON OTHER DRUGS

Alcohol and tobacco consumption and trade have been acceptable for centuries. Though these drugs are addictive and cause 150,000 deaths a year the UK Government does not prohibit and socially exclude them but instead licenses 200,000 traders and permits citizens informed choice. Taxation of the legal drugs trade covers the cost of all drug-related services.

Non-traditional drugs that compete with traditional drug industries were tolerated until early in the 20th century but soon after were prohibited on the basis that they were harmful. Subsequent Government policy demonised these drugs and their users, indoctrinating the general public rather than educating them about the risks of all drugs. Citizens who consume or trade these drugs face imprisonment. Drug discrimination is now endemic.

Needle Exchange is legal and available in drug projects, pharmacies and there are a few agencies that are specifically just for needle exchange and primary care as well as referral. Pill testing is not formalised but the Green Party Drugs Group are doing it, as are a few folk elsewhere individually.

Tobacco smoking in public may be prohibited in an attempt to prevent about 1000 deaths of non-smokers each year through passive smoking. There have been calls for tobacco itself to be prohibited, a policy rejected by ASH as harmful. The National Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy will be implemented in 2004.

UK Government continues to attempt to modernise drug policy; their goals are to make policy evidence-based, to reduce social exclusion, to increase informed choice and to target regulations effectively to avoid unintended harm (see the Better Regulation Task Force’s ’Principles of Good Regulation’). However drug policy reform continues to be limited by the discriminatory attitudes of voters, international law and some Government officials.

Contact for Drug Policy Activism in the UK: REFORM

READ ALSO: NATIONAL COUNTRY REPORT TO EMCDDA ON 2009





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The European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies, is a pan-European network of currently 150 NGO’s and individual experts involved in the drug issue on a daily base. We are the European section of an International Coalition, which consists of more than 400 NGOs from around the world that have adhered to a Manifesto for Just and Effective Drug Policies (established in 1998). Among our members are organisations of cannabis and other drug users, of health workers, researchers, grassroot activists as well as companies.


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