Cannabis in the UK – The Latest News

With the world’s melting pot in terms of culture and diversity, where does the UK stand when it comes to cannabis and the budding cannabis industry?

The United Kingdom has known to be on the forefront of many revolutions. It is a land that has produced many revolutions in the world and it has bred many idea creators and world leaders. Weather it is rock and roll to exemplary scholars, UK has had them all and each diverse and unique contribution from a wide variety of people has contributed in some way or the other to the social fabric of the UK. The United Kingdom is also a melting pot of all different kinds of cultures in the world. London in particular is an amalgamation of all kinds of individuals who each has individual representation in the city that is often dubbed as magical for most. Like all countries that have such a diverse culture, the social scene is also very robust and heavy with various influences, the UK is no different. From smoking, drinking, drug consumption everything is available in the UK!

The relationship UK has with drugs has been a long and withstanding one, from rigid stances against the consumption of any kind of recreational drug to rock stars such as Mic Jagger and Keith Richards smoking cannabis openly, the UK truly does have it all. It has the conservatives who feel that recreational drugs are a peril for society to the liberals who enjoy a relaxing dose of cannabis every now and then to the take the edge off the day. Cannabis is no stranger to the UK social scene in fact many stars hailing from UK have been behind the ‘stop the war on drugs’ movement.

It must also be highlighted that the UK is one of the leading economies of the world, which means that the decisions it takes internally regarding cannabis and its uses have an impact on how the world views cannabis. With its fellow global leader Canada legalising cannabis nationwide it will now be interesting to see how the UK also acts in the face of the recent cannabis acceptance that most world leaders are exhibiting.

One the major uses of cannabis in the UK has been as a recreational drug. It has been enjoyed since many centuries in the form of a rolled up joint to take the edge of a bad day or to simply chill out with friends. It is used by people of all ages and socio economic backgrounds and in 2017, 7.2% of 16 to 59-year-olds reported using cannabis in the last year, making it the most commonly used illegal drug in the United Kingdom.

Yes, you read it right, cannabis is illegal in the UK which means that this bustling market of consuming cannabis openly and recreationally is being done through the black market. This means there is a lot of money that the government could be making but is simply unable to do so due to the stringent laws which make recreational cannabis illegal. The most interesting thing seen worldwide on the ban on recreational cannabis is that somehow it is still being consumed through an exponentially growing market. The United Kingdom is no different, the cannabis consumption is growing rapidly and it remains severely under the radar. 

Cannabis is often smoked by mixing it with tobacco, this practice is common in the UK and as well as many parts of South Asia. The tobacco and cannabis is mixed together and rolled in a wrapping paper which makes a ‘spliff’, this is then smoked. The high of this is less intense than the joints smoked all over the world. The higher relative price of cannabis in the United Kingdom compared to the rest of the world remains the most likely explanation for the mixing of cannabis with tobacco, (although many users do this purely to ensure the “joint” smokes correctly, and to prevent it from going out). This practice is inspired from South Asian regions where cannabis is consumed by mixing it with tobacco. That is essentially from where a lot of the cannabis inspiration came from in the UK.

Laws against cannabis in the UK are very strict though. The usage has while so common in the lives of the people has not been legalised by the government which means that cannabis is illegal to possess, grow, distribute or sell in the UK. It is considered a class B drug with penalties attached to unlicensed dealing, unlicensed cultivation and trafficking. If found in someone’s possession or in cultivation in someone’s backyard the person runs the risk of being charged with an unlimited fine and up to 14 years in prison. For only possession the maximum number of years a person can be put behind bars is 5 years so the law is strict is and it is not really flexible in anyway. For smaller amounts a cannabis warning is issues, small amounts would be 1 ounce of herbal cannabis

Since ages cannabis has been declared a class B drug in the UK. It is however grown by people illegally, there was a brief stint in 2004 where the police overlooked anyone in possession of the drug but it was revised in 2008 and as of to date anyone who is in possession of the drug is liable for up to almost 5 years of prison. In the survey-year ending March 2014, possession of cannabis offences accounted for 67% of all police recorded drug offences in the UK.

Due to the diverse kinds of people in the UK there is a problem that arises in enforcing the law which is unique to its social fabric, there is a difference in how different people are treated when they are found with cannabis. People from different races and ethnicities are treated with different forms of severity within the system.

Like most other parts of the world cannabis was legalised in the UK from the 1st of November. There was a case of two epileptic children who benefitted severely from using cannabis and this story caused the change in policy. The hue and cry that was created when these kids were denied from their subscription of medical cannabis forced authorties to look into legalising cannabis for medical purposes. After the case of the twins   the case of Billy Caldwell who was hospitalised with life-threatening seizures after his medication was confiscated by authorities. This was the last straw and people demanded that medical cannabis needs to be allowed to those who are suffering to ease them off their pain and suffering.

The final change took place on 20 June 2018, when the appointed, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced his support for the medical use of cannabis and that a review would be undertaken to study changes to the law. There was said to be intensive and hard core discussion on the need to change the law and how it would benefit the citizens and the health sector.

 After deliberation, on 26 July 2018, Home Secretary Sajid Javid announced that cannabis products would be made legal for patients with an “exceptional clinical need”, and that cannabis would be moved from a Schedule I classification to Schedule 2.  The policy came into effect on 1 November 2018.

In order for a cannabis product to be considered medicinal it must meet three requirements said Mr. Javaid: it “needs to be a preparation or product which contains cannabis, cannabis resin, cannabinol or a cannabinol derivative; it is produced for medicinal use in humans and; is a medicinal product, or a substance or preparation for use as an ingredient of, or in the production of an ingredient of, a medicinal product”.

Anyone who wishes to use medical cannabis needs to be prescribed by a special consultant for it. The law stipulates that a General PR actioner is not allowed to prescribe cannabis, it must be given a special consultant who has to deem it absolutely necessary for the patient to need medical cannabis. It must also be made clear through paper work that all other medical vices have been exhausted in trying to cure the diseases on hand.

Medical cannabis and its legalisation means good things for the cannabis industry in the UK but from the way things seem, there isn’t a lot of hope in recreational cannabis being legalised any time soon. It will take time and constant cajoling from within political parties to push for the agenda. With the latest Brexit move it seems even more unlikely that cannabis will be legalised any time soon.

Cannabis is the drug that can truly revolutionize the medicinal world, with economies like the UK behind the mainstreaming and acceptance of the industry will most likely increase globally. Once laws become flexible in terms of cultivating and producing the drug it will become an even better situation for the UK to manufacture and create its own brand of cannabis. Certain laws however need to relax a bit, and the UK needs to cash on the million dollar industry that it can utilize from by regulating the recreational cannabis market. With its geographical surroundings bustling with excitement over legalisations nationwide it is imperative that some policy is made to handle the situation.

There has been extensive advocacy for legalising cannabis in the UK, in 2018, the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) published a report looking at the size of the UK cannabis market and the potential implications of legalisation. The report had many findings which need to be looked into seriously by lawmakers.  The report concluded that the current UK cannabis black market is worth over £2.5bn and cannabis tax yields could be between £204 million and £571 million. The recommendation from the IEA is that if cannabis is legalised, the duty rate should not be too high, as high tax would make retail prices less competitive and could prevent significant shrinkage of the black market. The report highlights how an effective price could potentially finish the black market and benefit the economy.

The Head of Lifestyle Economics at the IEA described legalisation of cannabis as a “win-win-win”, he stated that: “criminals lose a lucrative industry, consumers get a better, safer and cheaper product and the burden on the general taxpayer is reduced”.

Clearly the heavy sanctions on banning recreational cannabis is not working. It is a growing market which can prove to be the game changer for the UK economy. With societal norms becoming better towards recreational cannabis maybe things will improve for the better in the coming years, but as of right now there is no hope that one can relax with a joint at the end of a bad day, legally.

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