Is the UK Edging Towards Full Legalisation?

The UK has already taken the first step by legalising cannabis for medicinal use. Now the question is how long until recreational legalisation arrives?

We note that the subject contained in this article represents illegal activity in certain jurisdictions. Whilst we do not condone any acts which are contrary to any such laws, we understand that readers in those jurisdictions which have decriminalised cannabis may find this article of interest.

On 1 November 2018, cannabis became legal in the UK for medicinal purposes. Patients can now access the drug after a visit to the GP, who will determine whether they are a suitable candidate for cannabis-based medicinal products.

The UK still has a long way to go when it comes to using medicinal cannabis as common option for patients. However, throughout the years there has been gradual progress towards greater mainstream acceptance of the drug. In fact, cannabis has already proven to be a suitable treatment for many medical conditions, such as severe forms of epilepsy and multiple sclerosis.

Within the UK, the debate has largely been based on whether cannabis should be introduced as a treatment option for less extreme conditions.

However, with other countries such as Canada making large strides towards accepting cannabis within their society, could the UK's legalisation movement also be about to take a turn for the better?


Can you get away with it?

Currently, cannabis remains an illegal drug in the UK. That means possessing the drug or growing it can result in a minimum of 5 years jail time—while people caught distributing or selling it are liable to face up to 14 years—under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.

Over time, Britain has seen its laws and stigmas surrounding cannabis become more relaxed, including responses from police officers.

If an individual is caught using cannabis for personal use, then the punishment issued by a police enforcement officer may vary. Anything up to an ounce can often result in nothing more than an on-the-spot fine being issued, while anything over may increase the chances of being charged for possession.

However, being caught with—or smoking a significantly small amount of—cannabis may just mean you end up getting a stern verbal warning from an officer. Although, this could also depend on past convictions.

As the attitude towards cannabis continues to soften, different areas in the UK are taking unique approaches when it comes to prosecutions.

In Cornwall and Devon prosecution rates for cannabis possession are currently under 20 per cent, while in Durham the local police have stated that they will no longer be pursuing recreational users.


Demand for Legalisation

With the ongoing battle for Brexit, the future of the UK's cannabis market is unknown. However, this is not stopping consumers and activists from fighting for what they believe in.

Over 18,000 people have shown their support for legalisation by signing a government petition. This petition calls for complete legalisation in the UK, which would see recreational uses made legal alongside medicinal which is already availble with specialist prescription.

The petition was hosted on the official UK government petitions website, which states that after a petition surpasses 100,000 signatures it will be taken into consideration by parliament.

"The legalisation of drugs in the UK would not eliminate the crime committed by the illicit trade nor would it address the harms associated with drug dependence and the misery this can cause to families and society."

Official statement from the Home Office

Unfortunately, this petition didn't make it all the way, and was eventually closed after six months. The Home Office released an official response to the petition earlier this year, on 9 January 2019.

"The Government does not intend on legalising the recreational use of cannabis and the penalties for unauthorised supply, possession and production will remain unchanged," the Home Office stated.

"Legalisation of recreational use of cannabis would send the wrong message to the vast majority of people who do not take drugs, especially young and vulnerable people, with the potential grave risk of increased misuse of drugs."

Despite this, consumers and activists are still continuing their battle for legalisation.


Political views on legalisation

Opinions on cannabis vary between political parties in the UK. Back in 2016, the Liberal Democrats took inspiration from Canada's new legislation regarding cannabis, and subsequently became the first major political party to promote the legalisation of recreational use.

The Liberal Democrats argued that legalising cannabis would not only reduce drug-related crime, but also generate around £1billion in tax revenue.

Norman Lamb, a member of parliament for the Liberal Democrats, suggested that legalisation could contribute to tackling drug-related crime, as it would result in a legitimised and regulated cannabis market, meaning that the criminal cartels currently running the drug trade would eventually suffocate.

While this may have seemed like a radical viewpoint at the time, there has since been gradual progress in terms of an attitude shift towards cannabis, which includes many other members of parliament from various political parties.

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This came to light in June 2019, when Lib-Dem Norman Lamb, Labour's David Lammy and Conservative Jonathan Djanogly visited Canada, as part of a research trip to explore the nation's progress with its' recently created legal cannabis market.

David Lammy was originally opposed to the legalisation of cannabis—along with the rest of his party—however after the research trip he went on to state that the goal of legalisation was to have "the market legalised, regulated and taken away from crime gangs".

He also added that he wanted to see the drug's strength reduced, labelled and properly organised before proper distribution within the UK.

Mr Lammy is optimistic towards the cause of legalising cannabis, believing that the UK would see cannabis fully legalised within 5 years. Conversely, Conservative Jonathan Djanogly estimated that full legalisation would take 10 to 15 years to happen, stating that there is still much to learn about the drug.

Despite this, Mr Djanogly added that the legalisation of cannabis could help create an influx of jobs in industrial cities for building legal cannabis factories. 


A look into the future

Depite being illegal, cannabis still remains the most used drug in the UK. According to BBC News, up to 10 million people in England and Wales —aged between 16 and 64 years old—have tried cannabis at least once.

Unfortunately, the black market is a common place that consumers turn to when purchasing cannabis, as it is often illegally sold at lower than market rates.

This was confirmed by a report issued by the Institute of Economic Affairs, which stated that Britain's black market is worth up to £2.6 billion in annual cannabis sales.

It found that in 2017, more than 225 tones of cannabis was sold to over 3 million people in the UK. These shocking numbers are yet another reason why the UK should legalise cannabis for recreational use, as a legal market would be safer and more highly regulated.

And as further explained in the report, if the UK were to legalise cannabis, then the sale of legal cannabis would make up 95% of the current market. Taking into account the government's tax and VAT deductions, this would create annual tax profits of £690 million.

This would be a huge win for the government, not to mention the opportunities it could create in the job market, ranging from the business sector to agricultural.

The future for legalised cannabis is now in the hands of the government, and the British public can only hope that their leaders make the right choice.

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Niki Mohazeb
Niki Mohazeb

Niki is a Sydney based writer, with a passion for promoting the health benefits of medicinal cannabis. Niki also enjoys researching and writing about the future of cannabis along with the many other benefits that the plant provides, such as the diverse utilities of hemp.

There are 2 Comments in this post

    1. Good Question – Fears of cannabis-intoxicated drivers is a massive obstacle to legalization and for doctors who could potentially prescribe cannabis. As it stands, it's uncertain how countries will legislate around this, because as you mentioned, cannabis remains in the system for much longer than alcohol.

      Though we have covered emergent technology surrounding cannabis breathalyzers in this piece.

      Hound Labs' breathalyzer is set to hit markets in 2020, and similar technologies will likely be implemented by states & countries that legalize cannabis.

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