Given the UK’s upcoming exit from the European Union, the debate around current drug laws and possible legalisation of hard drugs such as cannabis have arguably taken a back seat. However, the argument still manages to feature in current news outlets. This has been significantly increased due to the recent change in drug laws across the pond.
In his statement on the legalisation of cannabis in Canada, Prime Minister Trudeau justified the decision by stating that the current laws governing the use of cannabis were ineffective. He went on to claim that legalising the use and trade of cannabis took money out of criminals’ pockets.
Cannabis became illegal in the UK in 1928 as an addition to the Dangerous Drugs Act of 1920. Despite its illegality, data from the Home Office reportedly shows that there has been a steady rise of cannabis usage.
According to a 2016 report, it’s estimated that 2.1 million people used cannabis in the UK. A YouGov poll found that three quarters of British people support the use of the drug on medical grounds. Crucially, nearly 50% of the public support its recreational use.
So, what is the current situation and how close is the UK to following Canada?
Cannabis is a Class B drug, meaning that it is illegal to possess, use and distribute. The current maximum sentence for possession of the drug is 5 years imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine. For supplying, an individual could face a maximum of 14 years.
During Tony Blair’s government, the drug was reclassified as a Class C substance and this was accompanied by much. Under Brown’s premiership, due to the drugs’ threat of damaging mental health, it was reclassified under Group B. The main objection to the drug’s legalisation continues to be the risks to mental health.
Whilst the number of cannabis users fell between 2006 and 2014, the demand for mental health related treatment increased by a halve.
Many have attributed this to the ‘Skunk’, a strain of marijuana that is high in THC, the main psychoactive substance in cannabis.
NHS research suggests that cannabis is a relatively low risk drug with only around 10% of its users developing an addiction. For more perspective, its estimated that 32% of tobacco users will become addicted and 15% of alcohol users will become addicted. Furthermore, there have been no cases in the UK where death was caused as direct consequence of Cannabis use.
Recently, CBD, the non-psychoactive component of cannabis is currently being research for its medicinal properties. Following the case of Billy Caldwell where his cannabis oil to treat severe epilepsy was confiscated at an airport, from November 1st,medical cannabis oil will be available on prescription.
In a 2018 report, the IEA have said that cannabis is to be ranked between alcohol and tobacco in terms of its regulation and sales should be restricted to over 18s.They further suggest that marijuana would have to be sold in licensed premises and a licence would be required for growing and importation.
Will It Ever Be Legalised?
An individual named Paul North of Volteface has recently spoke on alternative drug policies and stated that we are a lot closer than people think to following in Canada’s footsteps. North commented to The Standard that; “We will certainly see a regulated cannabis market in the UK in the near future.” He further qualified this remark by highlighting the importance of “education so that the public are better informed of what we have to gain from reform.”
Cannabis can now be obtained in the UK legally but only via a prescription for medicinal use. In terms of current government’s stance on its recreational legalisation, do not expect any such legislation change any time soon.
In 2018, a spokesman for the Prime Minister’s office claimed that “there are no plans to legalise or decriminalise the drug and underlined “serious harm” medical studies show it causes”.
However, this is not to say that legalisation will never happen. With a different government, under a different constitution, it is still very much possible.