In the past few years, there have been multiple changes towards weed legislation across the globe including Britain. This gives hope to the biggest question of the marijuana usercommunity in this country – isn’t it about time for weed legalization UK? Now that it’s 2022, will you please just legalize cannabis once and for all?
Many states and countries worldwide continue to embrace reforms leading to cannabis regulation: Uruguay was the first country to legalize the recreational and medical use of cannabis in 2013. Five years later, Canada followed suit and made weed legal. Since then, European governments have signed bills that legalize marijuana in their countries including Germany, Malta, and Italy. In the United States, over 18 states have legalized the recreational use of marijuana.
Reformists and policy analysts therefore hope that the UK could legalize weed to the level that countries like Canada and Uruguay have reached.
But the UK, known to have one of the harshest cannabis laws in the world, continues to remain stringent and obstinate towards weed legalization. And cannabis reforms activists continues to relentlessly push the British government towards considering a less stringent approach in dealing with illicit drugs.
That said, despite the strict UK laws on cannabis, there are still grey areas in the cannabis legislation and a long history of a revolution that could lead to less punitive measures on cannabis regulation.
The evolution of cannabis legislation in the UK
Let’s look back at how cannabis laws and regulations have evolved over the years to see if history and recent movements could give us some clues in determining whether there will be any weed legalization in the UK soon.
Since 1928, cannabis was classified as a Class B in the UK, until when the Labour Party downgraded it to a Class C drug in 2001. This meant reduced penalties for possession and supply of the drug. The aim of downgrading and decriminalizing cannabis to Class C substances then was to allow a more reasonable approach in dealing with cannabis offenses while allowing police to focus on other deadlier crimes. According to a 2005 Home Office report, the reclassification move saved over 199,000 police hours.
However, the bliss moment was short-lived. In 2007, Gordon Brown declared cannabis to be a class B drug, a move against the Advisory Council’s advice on the Misuse of Drugs. Weed has remained a Class B substance where possession penalties would sentence you up to 5 years imprisonment, while supply penalties could put you behind bars for up to 14 years. Even so, researchers were allowed to grow cannabis meant only for research purposes. People growing cannabis for research must obtain a license from the Home Office Department.
But despite the criminalization, cannabis use has increased almost exponentially over the years. There are atleast 4.7 million cannabis users in the UK who buy and supply weed in the black market, which is estimated to be worth 6 billion.
The push for UK weed legalization escalated in 2015 when the Misuse of Drugs Designation Act granted patients access to medical marijuana prescriptions from the NHS. For the first time in the UK, cannabis laws were revised to allow for medical cannabis prescription by the NHS for specific conditions only. The law ensures that children with rare epilepsy can get their medication. The Home Office said at the end of 2019 that it would not appeal court orders granting medical cannabis to kids with epilepsy.
Cannabis’ current legal status in the UK
As mentioned, cannabis, as a Class B drug, has been illegal in the UK for the longest time. The laws surrounding its legal medical use are also restricted, and only the NHS can prescribe the drug for specific conditions.
It’s against the UK laws to drive under the influence of cannabis, and if caught doing so, you risk being fined, have your driving license revoked, and face up to six months imprisonment.
Those caught in possession of cannabis, or any Class B drug such as amphetamine and barbiturates, could get an unlimited fine and a maximum of five years imprisonment.
The consequences for breaking any cannabis rules vary depending on how much cannabis is found and whether you are dealing with the drug.
For possession of cannabis on the street, the cops can issue fines of up to £100. They’ll arrest you and charge you with ‘supply intent’ rather than for ‘personal use’ if you have more than that quantity. The courts will next evaluate whether it was for personal use or not. It’d be worse if they find you with a grinder, baggies, or scales because it will lead them to believe it is for dealing – even if it isn’t.
According to a study conducted by the House of Commons Library, the number of cannabis possession charges has decreased by almost 50,000 since 2010. Furthermore, 25% of the offenses ended in a criminal charge, while the rest resulted in a warning or a penalty notice. Over time, UK cops have become less interested in pot possession offenses, indicating a shift in the country’s stance on weed criminality.
The current Conservative rulers seem to have closed doors to cannabis reforms and are staunch at the impossibility of any weed legalization in the near future. However, some Conservative MPs still defy the stand and continue to advocate for UK weed legalization. In 2019, Mr. Crispin Blunt, a Conservative MP, established the Conservative Drug Policy Reform Group (CDPRG). Mr. Blunt intended the government’s drug strategy to protect children by improving health and social outcomes for families and communities and lowering drug-related problems through the CDPRG.
Recent updates on weed legalization UK
Borrowing from the past, the journey to weed legalization seems to get more challenging by the day. While the rest of the world embraces cannabis reforms and most countries partly decriminalize cannabis, the UK still lags and is painfully slow in taking up the weed legalization reforms.
But is all lost?
Maybe not because the new London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, is said to have cannabis reforms part of his manifesto’s priorities. During his 2021 campaign, Mr. Khan promised to have cannabis decriminalization as part of what he’d review if and when re-elected for London’s mayoral seat. In his words, the review on cannabis laws would be for the best of London’s public health and keep the people of London safe.
Perhaps Sadiq Khan’s 55% vote win is the only hope that we can bank on that he’d deliver his promise to review cannabis laws and possibly consider decriminalization.
After getting to the office, Mr. Khan, on a press conference through his spokesperson, announced the plans of a pilot program that would help decriminalize cannabis. According to a report released in January 2022, the trial scheme would aim to divert young people (aged between 18-25) found with small amounts of cannabis away from facing criminal charges. Instead, the youngster caught in possession of the Class B drug would get guidance and counseling through rehab while continuing with education and advocacy-style courses. This would help to lessen the likelihood of a repeat offense.
The pilot plan is already on in Lewisham, Bexley, and Greenwich (three of London’s drugs hotbeds) and will mirror diversion schemes used by police forces across the UK.
Will weed be legal in UK?
Public support for legalization in the UK is broad but not deep, according to George McBride, CEO of Cannabis Europa. And there is not an industry-funded medical marijuana lobby insisting on the issue’s urgency. The political dynamics that legalize marijuana in the US are absent in the UK.
Legal medical marijuana in the UK
In 2018, a British mother travelled back to the UK from Canada with her son Billy Caldwell, a 12 year old who has a severe seizure disorder and requires cannabis oil treatment. At the airport, authorities confiscated his six months’ worth of anti-epileptic medicine. He was soon admitted to hospital with life-threatening seizures following the confiscation of his supply. It led to a public outcry.
Just weeks from the event, the UK legalized marijuana (medical uses only) for a very limited number of patients to give them access to alternative treatments. However, only professional doctors can prescribe it for specific circumstances. A prescription is only needed for a small number of ailments, such as chronic pain, severe epilepsy, chemotherapy induced nausea and vomiting, multiple sclerosis, and other illnesses causing severe muscle spasms.
Medical cannabis prescriptions are only available to those treated at private specialized centers. However, because doctors lack understanding about how to use medical cannabis and recommend patients, the obstacles to accessing these centers are considerable.
Patients are usually instructed to use a dry herb vaporizer for medical usage. They are only allowed to legally possess the flowers provided by the pharmacist, not any other cannabis.
While this is a step forward, this hardly galvanized the country to legalize it for everyone. It still excludes many people who do not meet the medical requirements or cannot afford a private cannabis prescription.
Cancard, a medicinal cannabis card scheme, was launched in 2020 to rectify this discrepancy.
A Cancard card allows those who have a verified medical reason to access medical marijuana more easily. The quantity of cannabis that police can seize is unlimited, and if you have your card, you won’t be prosecuted for possessing cannabis. It doesn’t mean you won’t be arrested, but it will help you explain your predicament and make things simpler if you are apprehended.
When will cannabis be legalized in the UK?
Over the last few years, there has been a growing consensus among UK legislators of all parties to amend the country’s cannabis regulations. The Liberal Democrats and Greens seek to make cannabis cultivation and supply legal and regulated for recreational use. Many Conservative politicians are now saying they would consider decriminalizing medical usage if medical proof supports it.
Although the government’s official stance on cannabis is unlikely to inspire optimism, a look back over the last several years reveals that progress is being made, however slowly. Aside from official party policy, significant advancements have been accomplished, medicinal cannabis reforms are progressing, and de facto decriminalization will continue to influence public perceptions of cannabis.
Although the Conservatives appear to be staunch, the present leadership isn’t known for sticking to ‘official’ positions. The current prime minister, Boris Johnson, has spoken out in favor of cannabis reform. Johnson stated in a video from April 2000 that he sees no reason why his “respectable neighbors who roll up a spliff and discreetly smoke it together” are “in violation of the law.”
Support for legalized marijuana is at an all-time high. According to a new YouGov poll, only 32% of people in the UK oppose pot legalization. The findings are the latest in a run of encouraging signs that the government should act rather than leave the market to firms with entrenched interests and shady reputations.
Canada’s historic vote to legalize adult use cannabis could signal a similar shift in the United Kingdom . The United Kingdom has stayed strong in its ban on cannabis, but as the political and social landscape evolves, UK weed legalization is changing. International market pressure is expected to hasten this development.
Is cannabis really helpful?
There is currently a vast amount of research indicating that CBD, the non-psychoactive component of cannabis, is beneficial for medicinal purposes. After a recommendation by the Chief Medical Officer and Advisor for England, the medical use of cannabis-based products was allowed in the United Kingdom in November 2018. Many argue, however, that the drug’s continued skepticism has resulted in widespread access issues, even for those in desperate need of it.
According to the Guardian, up to 20,000 people in the UK will be administered medical cannabis for two years as part of research examining the drug’s possible medicinal uses. This is designed to persuade the NHS to prescribe cannabis more widely for a variety of diseases and equip clinicians with the proof they need to be more receptive to prescribing cannabis. CBD has been touted as a digestive aid, nausea and vomiting suppressant, a chronic pain reliever, and an anxiety reliever, among other things.
According to NHS research, cannabis is a fairly low-risk drug, with just about 10% of users developing an addiction. To put things in perspective, it’s estimated that 32% of tobacco users and 15% of alcohol users will become hooked. Furthermore, there have been no documented death incidents in the United Kingdom as a direct result of cannabis use.
Will the United Kingdom, like Uruguay, the United States, Canada, and other European countries, legalize cannabis? While there’s no way to know for sure, there are a few elements that can give cause for optimism. Several petitions have been started in the United Kingdom to legalize cannabis, with thousands of people signing each one. The current Conservative government has stated that they will consider any suggestion. There appears to be considerable momentum toward UK weed legalization in the United Kingdom, but it may take some time.
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