Cannabis in the UK: How Close Is The UK To Legalising Marijuana?

14th August 2019

With the UK’s announcement of exit from the European Union and the controversy that surrounds it, the debate about current drug laws seems to be put on hold, and the legalization of cannabis has undoubtedly taken a back seat at the moment. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean that the argument has vanished – it still regularly features in news outlets. And, due to the change in drug laws across the pond, it’s expected to increase. But let’s take a look at the possibility of some actual results.

Steady Laws

Cannabis has been illegal in the UK since 1923 as an addition to the Dangerous Drugs Act of 1920. Although that hasn’t actually prevented an increase in its usage, the laws have remained quite steady. The next big change was the Misuse of Drugs Act which redefined the drug classification through a system of A, B, C classes. Cannabis ended up as a class B drug – the one illegal to distribute, possess and use. At one point during Tony Blair’s government, it was reclassified as a class C substance but it was soon reclassified back to class B under Brown’s premiership, due to its threat of damaging mental health(which continues to be the main objection to legalization).

Today the current maximum sentence is 5 years imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine in case of possession, and 14 years for supplying. As of 2019, the only way to grow cannabis seeds in the UK is to have a license from the Home Office, which requires a complete criminal records check, meeting certain guidelines, and a cost of £580. Of course, these steady laws can still change – especially with cannabis supporters today pushing towards rectification into class C – but they can also become harsher as a response.

A Reignited Debate

What has truly reignited the debate around cannabis legalization is the case of the 12-year-old boy called Billy Caldwell who was treating his life-threating epilepsy with the cannabis oil – until it was confiscated at Heathrow Airport. This case has not only resurrected the question of permitting medical-grade marijuana, but also a possibility for a regulated and lawful market for recreational use, too. This may seem as promising signs that the government’s attitude towards cannabis may be changing. But can this truly lead to full legalization?

Undoubtful Benefits

There’s no doubt about many obvious benefits the legalization could bring. First of all, the regulation of cannabis would largely decrease the circulation of the potent strains – mainly the ʽskunkʼ, which makes 94% of the cannabis seized by British police. Due to the fact that it contains lower levels of CBD and higher levels of THC, skunk increases the risk of developing psychosis. So legalization of recreational cannabis, together with setting up licensed dispensaries, would allow the government to obtain a significant portion of control over its circulation. With all packaging listing the information on sold cannabis, including THC and CBD content, strain, and the name of the producer, users will have more education and choice of what they’re smoking. Soft drug users wouldn’t be pushed into hands of hard drug sellers and police time wouldn’t be wasted with largely misdemeanor crimes. Last but not least, the taxation of marijuana could bring around 3 billion pounds a year. Makes you ask yourself what’s the holdup, right?

A Negative Perception

The laws are not the only thing that stands in the way of legalization in the UK – while 75% of the British public supports cannabis use for medical grounds, supporters of recreational use make only 43%. The reason lies in the perception of the drug which is pretty negative in Uk compared to other countries. The drug is associated with antisocial people who stay at home, contrary to cocaine and booze which have a much more hedonistic and social culture. Since it’s considered a very white working-class housing estate drug consumed by people who’ve lost their way in life, it’s not that aspirational. Of course, this is due to the fact the market is flooded with the skunk which has become synonymous with cannabis in the UK, so it’s a kind of an enchanted circle.

While cannabis for medicinal use can be obtained legally in the UK (via prescription, of course), the laws concerning recreational legalization are not likely to change any time soon, considering the fact that they’ve also created negative perception which supports them.  Nevertheless, that perception can easily change as it has in Canada and America, but experts state that it could take up to ten years for that to happen.