Is Weed Legal in England?

Is recreational cannabis legal in England? What about medicinal marijuana, or CBD? Find out more in this article.

As we leave behind the twenty-teens and enter into a new decade, many are writing down resolutions for what they'd like to happen in 2020. For some, this might include losing weight or quitting smoking, however, many are also wondering what 2020 holds for drug legalization.

In 2019, we saw the Australian Capital Territory legalize recreational cannabis possession, Illinois became the 11th state to legalize cannabis, and Mexico vowed to bring about an end to their war on drugs. The SAFE Banking Act was passed in the United States which allowed cannabis retailers to utilize financial institutions, Canada legalized edibles and extracts, and the MLB stopped testing its players for cannabis. Needless to say, the cannabis landscape is constantly changing and it can be hard to keep up at times.

That's why we're laying out the laws of the land, this time, focusing upon England.

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Is Weed Legal in the UK?

Is Recreational Weed Legal in England?

Unfortunately for those in England at the moment, you'll need to head on over to Amsterdam if you want to consume cannabis (somewhat) legally.

The categorization of illicit substances in England falls into Class A, B or C, and marijuana finds itself smack-bang in the middle, under Class B status.

Class A drugs are considered the most harmful, including heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, and LSD. The penalty for possession of a Class A drug range from a fine up to seven years in prison. Class A drugs are said to be the most dangerous of the three categories. Class B drugs are considered less harmful than A, which include speed, ketamine, codeine, and cannabis.

This means that if you're found guilty of cannabis possession, you could face up to five years in prison, an unlimited fine or both. If you're found guilty of supplying or growing cannabis, you could be looking at up to 14 years in prison, depending on the severity of the charge and prior convictions.

This is all despite the fact that in the United Kingdom, cannabis is the country's most widely used illegal drug, with nearly a third of adults aged 16 to 64 that have tried the drug at least once in their lives. Furthermore, approximately 1.4m British people consume cannabis in order to self-diagnose health conditions.

Whether cannabis will be made legal in England in the future is uncertain, though the public certainly isn't opposed to it. A 2018 survey found that 59% of the British public supports cannabis legalization, and some police counties have even stated they won't target cannabis use unless it's "blatant." In fact, in 2004, England lowered the classification of cannabis to a Class C drug, meaning that those caught in possession of the plant would no longer face arrest. Though this change only lasted 5 years, and in 2009, marijuana once again belonged to the Class B status.

Perhaps the changing global landscape of cannabis will prompt reform in England and throughout the United Kingdom, though others argue that unlike the United States, England's history doesn't lend itself to making sweeping changes to its cannabis laws any time soon.

As England didn't have the same War on Drugs as America or the racially-divided ramifications that followed, some argue there is a greater motivation in the U.S. to make an immediate change. This is also coupled with the opioid epidemic in the States, which has been shown to improve when cannabis is made legal. Again, England doesn't face the same epidemic, which may remove some of the motivation to change the legal status of cannabis.

Is Medical Marijuana Legal In England?

According to the UN's International Narcotics Control Board, the UK accounted for almost half of the world's total cannabis production, totalling ninety-five tonnes of marijuana produced in 2016 for medicinal and scientific use in the UK alone. And not only that, but the UK is the home of GW Pharmaceuticals, one of the most groundbreaking biopharma companies in the cannabis space.

Though interestingly, medicinal marijuana only became legal in England in 2018, following the highly-publicized case of 12 year old Billy Caldwell, who used cannabis oil to treat his severe epilepsy. As medicinal cannabis wasn't available at the time in the UK, Caldwell and his mother had to frequently travel to Canada and North America to source their cannabis oil until it was eventually confiscated at Heathrow airport upon their return home.

Billy's inability to source the one medicine which seemed to work miracles upon him drew international attention, and shortly after, Billy was hospitalized as his epilepsy symptoms worsened. This prompted officials to provide Billy with a 20-day exemption from the cannabis ban to see if his condition would improve, which it did. From then on, the values of medicinal cannabis simply couldn't be ignored any longer, and legislators made cannabis-based medicines available upon prescription.

Though England has had a slow start when it comes to the prescription of cannabis. To begin with, the first shipment of medical cannabis didn't arrive until February 2019, several months after it was legalized. Then, an NHS review revealed that doctors were still very uncertain when it came to the medicinal benefits of cannabis due to a lack of clinical trials. On top of this, some patients had to pay roughly £50,000 per year price tag for products like GW Pharma's Sativex.

This combination of doctor hesitancy and high prices has since resulted in extremely low prescriptions for medicinal cannabis across the United Kingdom, with less than 160 prescriptions written in total.

The good news is that the Australian medicinal landscape saw many of the same issues as England and the UK at large, and thanks to the efforts of educators, distributors and medical practitioners, we're finally seeing prescriptions skyrocket. This means that England can certainly do the same in years to come.

Is CBD Legal in England?

Contrary to popular belief, Cannabidiol (CBD) is in fact legal in England. Perhaps due to the country's tight stance on recreational marijuana and it's virtually non-existent medicinal marijuana industry, many have simply not paid much attention to compounds within the cannabis plant like cannabidiol.

In fact, the UK's out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach to drugs has left many of its citizens ill-informed when it comes to substances like CBD, with studies showing that over 50 percent of adults mistakenly believe that CBD is still banned, while 80 percent thought that consuming the non-psychoactive oil had the same effect as smoking cannabis.

However, this isn't the case. CBD is a non-psychoactive compound found within the cannabis plant that contains many of the medicinal benefits of weed, without the mental effects of THC – Tetrahydrocannabinol.

CBD is believed to help with insomnia, depression, inflammation, and epilepsy, to name just a few of the proposed benefits, and as a result, CBD has become a craze across numerous industries such as cosmetics, nutraceuticalspet productsathletic supplementsbeverages and more.

The good news is that CBD is completely legal in England, "provided it has been derived from an industrial hemp strain that is EU-approved." Furthermore, Market research predicts that the UK's CBD industry could reach £1B per annum by 2025.

At this point, it seems the only barrier to the UK's latent CBD industry is a lack of awareness surrounding the compound, which will undoubtedly change in the near future.

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Louis O'Neill
Louis O'Neill

Louis is a writer based in Sydney with a focus on social and political issues. Having interviewed local politicians and entrepreneurs, Louis now focuses on cannabis culture, legislation & reform.

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