Is Cannabis Legal in the UK?

The United Kingdom has a long and complicated relationship with cannabis. Here’s a look at the current state of cannabis legality in the UK.

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Cannabis is illegal in the UK. The maximum penalty for possession is 5 years in prison, and the maximum penalty for supply and production is 14 years in prison. However, the UK government has recently started to review the legal status of cannabis.

Class B drug

Cannabis is a Class B drug in the UK, which means it is illegal to possess, supply or produce. The maximum penalty for possession is 5 years imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine. For supplying and producing the drug, the maximum sentence is 14 years imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine.

Possession of Class B drugs carries a risk of up to 6 months in prison and/or an unlimited fine if convicted in magistrates court. If prosecuted and convicted in crown court, the maximum sentence that can be imposed is 5 years imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine.

Supply (including selling, dealing, giving away) and production (including cultivation) of Class B drugs can lead to a prison sentence of up to 14 years and/or an unlimited fine if convicted in crown court.

Possession is illegal

In the United Kingdom, the possession of cannabis is illegal. This includes the possession of cannabis for personal use and the possession of cannabis with intent to supply. The illegal possession of cannabis can lead to a criminal record and a fine of up to £5,000. The penalties for cannabis possession are harsher in some parts of the UK than others. In England and Wales, the maximum penalty for possession is five years in prison and an unlimited fine. In Scotland, the maximum penalty is two years in prison and an unlimited fine. In Northern Ireland, the maximum penalty is five years in prison and an unlimited fine.

The UK government has no plans to legalise cannabis. However, some members of parliament have called for a review of the UK’s drug laws. In October 2018, a group of MPs from across the political spectrum called on the government to hold a public debate on legalising cannabis.

Cannabis is classified as a Class B drug in the UK. This means that it is illegal to possess, grow, produce or supply cannabis. The penalties for breaking the law are severe and can lead to up to 14 years in prison and an unlimited fine.

The UK is signatory to various international treaties which aim to control the trade in illicit drugs, including cannabis. These treaties impose strict controls on the cultivation, production, manufacture, sale, transport, export and import of cannabis.

Supply and production is illegal

The legal status of cannabis in the UK is that it is illegal to supply or produce, but it is not illegal to possess or consume. The maximum sentence for possession is 5 years in jail and an unlimited fine. For supply and production, the maximum sentence is 14 years in jail and an unlimited fine.

The UK’s approach to cannabis

The UK’s approach to cannabis has been evolving rapidly in recent years. In 2015, the UK’s Conservative Party included a pledge in their manifesto to review the UK’s classification of cannabis. And in 2018, the UK government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs recommended that cannabis should be downgraded from a Class B to a Class C drug.

‘War on drugs’

The UK’s approach to cannabis is governed by the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, which classified the drug as a Class B drug. This means that possession of cannabis is an offence, with a maximum punishment of five years in prison and/or an unlimited fine.

The supply and production of cannabis is also an offence, with a maximum punishment of 14 years in prison and/or an unlimited fine. TheClassification of cannabis was upgraded to Class B in 2008, following a review by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. Prior to this, it had been Class C since 2004.

The UK’s approach to drugs is based on the ‘war on drugs’ model, which was pioneered by the US in the early 20th century. This model criminalises all aspects of drug use, including possession, production and supply. It also focuses on law enforcement as the primary tool for tackling drug use.

This approach has been criticised by some people, who argue that it is not effective in reducing drug use or addressing the social harms associated with it. They also argue that it disproportionately punishes people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Reclassification of cannabis

In 2004, the UK’s Home Office classified cannabis as a Class C drug, making possession punishable by a maximum five-year prison sentence. However, in 2009, the government downgraded cannabis to a Class B drug following pressure from medical experts and concerns that the previous classification was not having the desired deterrent effect on young people. The change meant that people caught with small amounts of cannabis could expect to receive a formal warning or on-the-spot fine rather than be arrested.

The move was widely welcomed by medical professionals and drug reform campaigners, who argued that it would help to reduce the number of young people being unnecessarily criminalized for possession of small amounts of cannabis. However, critics warned that it could lead to an increase in use among young people, and some police forces voiced concerns that it would make their jobs more difficult.

In 2018, the UK government carried out a review of the evidence on the health effects of cannabis and its classification as a Class B drug. The review concluded that there was insufficient evidence to support reclassifying cannabis as a Class A drug (the most serious category), but recommended that it remain classified as a Class B drug due to its potential harms.

Medical cannabis

In November 2018, the UK Government changed the law to make cannabis-derived medicinal products legal. This means that specialist doctors in the UK can prescribe medicinal cannabis to patients with an exceptional clinical need.

Before a patient can be prescribed medicinal cannabis, they must first have an assessment with a specialist doctor. The doctor will then decide if there is enough evidence to believe that the patient could benefit from being prescribed medicinal cannabis. If the doctor prescribes medicinal cannabis, they will continue to monitor the patient closely.

The decision to prescribing must be made on a case-by-case basis and only when it is deemed as clinically appropriate. Not all patients who request will receive a prescription and some patients who receive a prescription may find that it does not provide any benefits.

Public opinion on cannabis legalisation in the UK

Cannabis is currently illegal in the UK but attitudes towards its legalisation are changing. A YouGov poll in 2018 found that 45% of British adults think that cannabis should be legalised, with 37% opposed to the idea. This is a significant change from the results of the same poll in 2015, when only 36% supported legalisation and 44% were opposed. So what has changed in the last few years?

A 2017 YouGov poll

In 2017, YouGov asked the British public what their opinion was on the legalisation of cannabis in the UK.

43% of those polled said that they believed cannabis should be legalised, while 37% said they believed it should not be legalised. 20% said they did not know or had no opinion.

Those who advocated for the legalisation of cannabis were most likely to be young people aged 18-24 (61%), men (47%) and people living in London (50%).

A 2018 YouGov poll

In May 2018, YouGov ran a poll asking the British public whether they thought cannabis should be legalised in the UK. 43% of respondents said that they thought it should be, with 17% stating that they ‘strongly agree’ and 26% saying that they ‘tend to agree’. 11% said that they didn’t know and 45% said that they disagreed with legalisation.

This represented a significant increase in support for legalisation compared to previous polls. A 2013 poll by Ipsos Mori found that just 36% of Britons supported legalisation, with 52% opposed.

Support for legalisation is highest among young people, with 63% of 18-24 year olds in favour compared to just 32% of those aged 60+. There is also a significant difference between men and women, with 50% of men supporting legalisation compared to just 37% of women.

differ significantly by age and gender.are more supportive than older people, while women are less supportive than men.

The impact of legalisation in other countries

In the United Kingdom, cannabis is not legal. THC, the main psychoactive constituent of the cannabis plant, is a class B drug. This means that it is illegal to possess, supply, or produce. However, the UK has seen a recent change in its attitude towards the drug.


In the United States, the use and possession of cannabis is illegal under federal law for any purpose, by way of the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. However, a growing number of states, territories, and the District of Columbia have enacted more liberal laws regarding the drug.

In December 2012, the states of Washington and Colorado became the first to decriminalize marijuana for recreational use by adults aged 21 and over. In November 2014, Oregon and Alaska followed suit by voting to legalize recreational marijuana use. As of January 2018, a total of 29 states plus Washington D.C. have legalized marijuana for medical purposes.

The Obama administration’s policy was to not enforce federal law in states that had decriminalized cannabis. However, this hands-off approach was brought to an end when Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memo in January 2018 rescinding the Obama-era guidance on cannabis enforcement.


In October 2018, Canada became the second and largest country with a legal, nationwide cannabis market.

Adult Canadians are able to purchase and consume cannabis from both online and brick-and-mortar stores. The government-run website provides information on where to buy cannabis, how much you can carry, and outlines the rules for consuming in public.

Cannabis is also legal for medicinal purposes in Canada, with a doctor’s prescription.

The legal age for purchasing and consuming cannabis in Canada is 19, except for in Alberta and Quebec where the age limit is 18.

The future of cannabis legalisation in the UK

The legal status of cannabis in the United Kingdom has been a topic of debate and controversy for many years. Currently, the possession, use, and supply of cannabis are all illegal under UK law. However, there is a growing movement in favour of legalising the drug.

The government’s review of cannabis

The UK government is currently reviewing the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes. In 2016, they decriminalized the possession of small amounts of the drug for personal use. The government has said that they will not be legalizing cannabis for recreational use at this time.

The review is being led by drugs minister Victoria Atkins and Home Office minister Sarah Newton. It will consider the scientific evidence around the medical benefits of cannabis, as well as the potential risks. The government has said that they are open to changing the law if the evidence shows that there are medical benefits to doing so.

The review is expected to take several months to complete.

The UN’s stance on cannabis legalisation

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s (UNODC) position on the legalisation of cannabis is that it would “send the wrong message to society” and be “premature”, given the “health risks” associated with the drug.

In a report published in 2016, the UNODC said: “Cannabis legalisation – as advocated by some – would not only fail to address the health risks associated with cannabis use, but would also send the wrong message to society that cannabis is safe to use.

“Given these health risks, any debate on legalisation cannot be divorced from a discussion on how best to protect public health, in particular young people.”

The UNODC’s position was criticised by Transform Drug Policy Foundation, which said it was “not based on evidence”.

In December 2018, the UN’s General Assembly voted to reject a resolution calling for the legalisation of cannabis.

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