8 UK Law facts cannabis users need to know about

November 4, 2021

Cannabis is one of those substances where it can be hard to know where you stand when it comes to the law in the UK. Many remember the days when it was almost decriminalised and put down to a lowly Category C drug, but what does the law say as of right now?

To get to the bottom of it all and understand what your options are, we’re going to take a look at the key changes, and the important things which have remained the same. In just a couple of minutes you should have all the key information you need to make an informed decision about what you want to do. We’ll also cover the relationship between the law and the rapidly growing CBD market in the UK. Let’s dive right in…

Cannabis remains a Category B substance as of 2021

Although you will hear a lot of talk and plenty of urban myths to the contrary, cannabis has most definitely not been decriminalised. This means that being found in possession of it by a member of the police can result in fine of up to £2,500 and prison sentence of 5 years. This may sound like a heavy price to pay for carrying a small amount of a widely used drug, but the law remains the law. Because it’s still illegal to carry or use cannabis for recreational purposes, supplying it is also a criminal offence, and one with much tougher sanctions…

Dealing cannabis is a serious offence

Being found in possession with intent to supply, regardless of the amount of cannabis in your possession, carries a prison sentence of up to 14 years. This stiff penalty is designed to deter would-be dealers and suppliers from profiting from the black market in the UK. At time of writing it is estimated to be worth £6billion in cannabis sales alone, with a large number of unpleasant side effects like violent crime and substance misuse.

This is an issue that those who use cannabis for medicinal purposes have found hard to swallow. Fortunately, when you take a closer look at the law, illicit dealers are not the only source of cannabis in the UK.

Cannabis has been available on the NHS since 2018

This may come as a shock to those reading this, but you’ve been able to request cannabis on the NHS for at least 3 years now. While this may sound like a welcome alignment to the policies in Canada and many US states, the reality is far from the case.

While the legal mechanisms to make such a request are in place, less than 3 complete plants have been prescribed across the whole of the UK since the law was changed. Why is this? There are a number of complex factors at play here, chief of which is the reluctance of the medical community to prescribe cannabis due to its known side effects. This problem for medicinal users goes away with the use of pure CBD that’s THC-free, but for those who want cannabis, the chances are slim that the NHS will actually deliver it when asked.

Cannabis is being decriminalised in practical terms

Now, this might jump out to those of you who have followed the details of the Category B decision in the first point, but it’s the reality of cannabis in the UK right now. Police are increasingly turning a blind eye or diverting low-level cannabis users to other areas, rather than pushing for criminal convictions. While it still remains an offence, you will be by no means let off with a slap on the wrist, many police officers now prefer a simple on the spot fine, typically of £30. This is seen as enough to enact the law, but not so much that it unduly punishes a sizeable minority of users in the population as a whole, especially when you consider that only a small percentage of them will ever be caught.

Before we move onto the next point, it’s really worth a word of warning here. While this is a form of effective decriminalisation, this is a world apart from actual full decriminalisation as exists in other countries. The laws surrounding possession with intent to supply have certainly not been relaxed in any way either. 

The UK is the world’s largest exporter of legal medicinal cannabis

Given that it’s illegal to supply cannabis to make a profit within the UK, it’s surprising that the UK holds this position in the expert league tables. At time of writing the UK was the largest legal exporter in the world, but this can be expected to change with the rapid expansion of the cannabis growing industry in the US, and the push by other western countries to fully legalise.

Sadiq Khan will look at decriminalisation

The mayor of London has spoken openly of his desire to make a decision on the balance of the evidence presented to him. This will chiefly involve the psychological and physiological benefits to users, as well as those subject to passive inhalation. Secondary considerations which need to be made would be the licensing and distribution process, as well as the new tax revenue that would be generated and how it would be collected in a fair and equitable way.

Cancards could be game changers for medicinal users

1.4 million people are estimated to use cannabis on a regular basis for common conditions such as chronic pain, arthritis and anxiety to name but a few. While it is technically an offence to procure and carry cannabis from an illegal source, medicinal use can be something of a grey area. It is technically available on the NHS, but for all intents and purposes people who request it aren’t being given it at present.

To cover this issue, a Cancard has been created which allows anyone stopped by the police to provide a justified medical reason for having cannabis on them. The hope is that this will highlight those who are only seeking to improve their quality of life and help them bypass the legal sanctions, prison time, and fines they would otherwise face.

CBD oil is legal, on one condition

While cannabis is a complex legal area, CBD remains relatively simple. Provided it’s THC-free and sourced from a hemp strain which is certified as EU-approved, it’s legal to sell and distribute like any other product. CBD can also be sourced from outside the EU which provides users with a greater range of options.

Final thoughts

Cannabis has a rather grey legal history, which can make knowing where you stand difficult. If in doubt, speak to your doctor and ask if you can be one of the few who can get it prescribed on the NHS. This is still very early days for the medical community, so you may find that you need a Cancard to justify your reason if you’re stopped instead. If in doubt, exercise caution and review the key points in this article before going further. That way, you’ll be able to make an informed decision without having to worry about the consequences further down the line.

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