In the UK, marijuana is illegal for entertainment and is classified as a class B drug. In 2004, marijuana was classified as a class C drug with a lighter punishment, but it returned to class B in 2009. Medical use of cannabis, when prescribed by a registered specialist doctor, was legalised in November 2018.
Despite the fact that cannabis is illegal in the UK, with limited availability for medical use, the United Kingdom is the world’s largest exporter of legal cannabis.
Cannabis Is Legal only for Medical Use in the UK
Cannabis was rescheduled (from schedule 1 to schedule 2 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971) in 2018 to allow for the medical application of the drug. This major decision was largely influenced by the high-profile cases of two children who suffer from rare forms of treatment-resistant epilepsy.
The parents of Billy Caldwell and Alfie Dingley had tried a number of registered epilepsy medications with little success until they discovered the positive effects of cannabis-based medications. However, the legality of these drugs in the UK meant that they had to source medications from abroad.
The rescheduling of cannabis allowed for specialist clinicians in the UK to prescribe medical cannabis products. Following this decision, medical cannabis is now legal for the first time in almost 50 years.
Cannabis is illegal to possess, grow, distribute or sell in the UK. It is a Class B drug, with penalties for unlicenced dealing, unlicenced production and unlicenced trafficking of up to 14 years in prison, an unlimited fine, or both. The maximum penalty for possession of cannabis is five years in prison and an unlimited fine. A “Cannabis warning” can be issued for small amounts of cannabis (generally less than 1 ounce of herbal cannabis, or a slightly higher quantity of hashish) if it is found to be for personal use. This entails the police keeping a record, albeit one which carries no fine and does not show up on standard DBS Check.
In terms of the rule enforcement, in the survey-year ending March 2014, possession of cannabis offences accounted for 67% of all police recorded drug offences in the UK.
In 2015, County Durham police announced that they will no longer be targeting people who grow cannabis for personal consumption unless they are being “blatant”. Derbyshire, Dorset and Surrey police announced that they will also be implementing similar schemes. The move is in response to significant budget cuts, which means police forces are having to prioritise more pressing areas.
According to figures obtained through a Freedom of Information request, there are large differences by county regarding how many cases actually result in an offender being charged. In 2016, Hampshire police had the most charges at 65%, while Cambridge had the lowest proportion of charges at only 14%
Brexit Will Cut off the Marijuana Prescription for Sick Children
After months of diplomatic wrangling – notably over fishing and state aid – the UK and EU finally struck a deal on their post-Brexit trade relationship on Dec. 24th, averting a costly no-deal departure on December 31.
Following the brexit, British children with severe medical conditions will no longer be able to access medical cannabis prescriptions.
In a letter sent to stakeholders, clinics and patient groups last week, the UK Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) cautioned that once the brexit succeeds, prescriptions issued in the UK will no longer be honoured by EU Member States. In practice, this means that severely epileptic children who are essentially reliant on medical cannabis will be wholly unable to access the treatment they need after Brexit, as the supply chain is based in the Netherlands.
A spokesperson for the medical cannabis access campaign End Our Pain commented: “This letter is yet another devastating blow to these families, who already experience the difficulties of caring for very sick children. Time after time, the End Our Pain families have made desperate pleas to the Prime Minister, the Health Secretary and the NHS for urgent assistance, but their needs continue to be ignored. This letter, sent so close to the transition deadline, has left us scrambling to find a solution based on very limited information. The termination of medical cannabis supply from the Netherlands to the UK, will is a matter of life and death for these children. It’s imperative that the government act now to help reach a solution and help these families.”