Attitudes toward cannabis have been changing in recent years. All around the globe, there has been an increase in legalization and legislation regarding cannabis. Efforts have been made to make cannabis legal for medicinal purposes in many countries, as well as legalizing cannabis for recreational use. Each country and region has different legislation in how to handle cannabis. The United Kingdom has become one of the most recent countries to introduce cannabis legislation, specifically for medicinal purposes, while still restricting recreational use.
In examining the UK, there has been a recent shift in how cannabis is treated legally. Cannabis legislation in the UK was recently passed in October of 2018 stating that medical cannabis would now be legal, beginning on November 1, 2018. A patient would now be able to seek out a specialist, such as a paediatrician or a neurologist, who will prescribe cannabis-based products but only on a case by case basis. This decision was made after the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, called for an urgent review of the safety of cannabis and cannabis products in the summer of 2018.
There has, however, been much public upset regarding medical cannabis as many have stated it is incredibly difficult to actually get a prescription. Some of the difficulty stems from the fact that the cannabis legislation was written under a constrained time period – only three months – and was not able to consider the hurdles that would come from lack of knowledge or restrictions set by pharmacies. Even if a patient is able to obtain a prescription, there is no guarantee that it will be in stock. This has led to great stress and frustration for those who require medicinal cannabis in the UK.
Until it was made available medically, cannabis was classified as a Class A drug in the UK. Once the legislation for medicinal cannabis was based, it was then changed to a Class B drug. However, it is still illegal to possess, grow, and use cannabis recreationally. Possession of recreational cannabis can mean being fined an indefinite amount, up to 5 years in prison, or both. Producing and supplying cannabis means a fine of an indefinite amount and up to 14 years in prison, or both.
Cannabis has been illegal for recreational use in the UK since 1928. It is legal to grow hemp, but it requires a permit for cultivation and distribution. Currently, cannabis is the most popular illegal drug in the UK. Almost half of all searches and seizures are related to suspicion of drug possession, and in 2017 there were nearly 20,000 prosecutions for possession of cannabis. The most common punishment for cannabis possession is a warning, with 30,000 warnings being recorded in 2017.
There are many pro-cannabis groups in the UK that have been pushing for the legalization of recreational cannabis. Many of these groups believe that the COVID-19 crisis has given great cause to push for legislation that regulates recreational cannabis as it would be a new taxable product to help during this unsure financial time. There is a belief among supporters that legalizing cannabis will have a positive effect not only on those who are unable to access medical cannabis and be safer for all users but will stop unnecessary criminal justice entanglements.
Those who are opposed, however, believe that cannabis legislation will only introduce more addiction and more crime into society. Anti-cannabis groups believe that there will be a negative message sent by legalizing cannabis, especially to young people, and will lead to the misuse or abuse of the drug. There is also the belief that there is the risk of dependency, that with ease of access, there will be an increase of use of cannabis that will lead to health risks.
There is still much debate over cannabis legislation in the UK, especially if there will be any law passed to allow the recreational use of cannabis. General consensus in Parliament regards cannabis as a generally dangerous substance, hence its Class B status. Despite having 44% of cannabis plants intended for scientific research and medicine, the UK restricts the usage of the product very tightly. The fact that legislation passed to make medicinal cannabis legal was a surprising step forward for the UK.