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UK Cannabis Law

ByDarshan Shah

Jun 12, 2020

The laws governing cannabis are in a state of flux in various countries across the globe, and the UK is not an exception. As the awareness of cannabis rises, the law finds it a challenge to distinguish between medical and recreational use of cannabis and the pharmaceutical and wellness markets. The shift towards legal reforms in cannabis law is challenged by the technical nature in which the UK rules are written, long-rooted cultural views on cannabis and politics.

The UK Government’s Stance on Cannabis

The UK government remains steadfast on the laws that govern all activities related to cannabis. The government continues to enforce policies that have no scientific backing or evidence support. According to the government, cannabis is a highly harmful and dangerous drug that can cause addiction as well as mental problems. Moreover, the herbal form of cannabis lacks medical benefits. The government reasons that the classification of cannabis as a controlled substance aims to protect the citizens from themselves. As it stands, it is illegal to grow, possess, distribute, or use cannabis in the UK.

·      Controlled Substance

The UK law under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 classifies drugs under three categories based on the perceived severity of the substance. Controlled substances are classified using letters as below

Class A drugs

Class A drugs are the most serious and incur the highest penalties. This category entails substances like cocaine, crack cocaine, heroin, ecstasy – MDMA, LSD, methadone, magic mushrooms, and crystal meth – methamphetamine.

The possession of class A drugs can attract an unlimited fine, a jail term of up to seven years in prison, or both. Production and supply of these substances can earn a sentence of life imprisonment, an unlimited fine, or both.

Class B drugs

The act classifies cannabis as a class B substance. Other substances in this class include ketamine, methylphenidate (Ritalin), amphetamines, codeine, and barbiturates. Synthetic cathinones like methoxetamine and mephedrone belong to this class.

Possession of class B drugs can earn an unlimited fine, a jail sentence of up to five years, or both. Production and supply of class B drugs can also earn an unlimited fine, a jail term of up to fourteen years or both.

Class C drugs

The substances under class C drugs include khat, gamma-butyrolactone (GBL), gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB), piperazines, benzodiazepines (diazepam) and anabolic steroids.

Possession can of class C substances earn one and an unlimited fine, a prison sentence of up to two years or both. Production and supply of these substances attract an unlimited fine, a jail term of not exceeding fourteen years or both.

In 2004, cannabis was reclassified under the lesser rank of class C substances. However, the new status was to last a short period. In 2008, the Prime Minister Gordon Brown restored cannabis to its initial class B rank.

·      Your Rights

Aside from the powers outlined in a statute, the police lack the general powers to stop and search you. You can always question the basis under which the police are searching. You should not be searched if there are no search powers. However, there is some exemption. For example, the police have the power to search you when accessing a sports ground or any other premise where consent to the search is a condition of entry.

The police have no power to collect your personal details at all times. The circumstances that mandate you to provide your details to the police are when being cautioned or arrested. During this time, the police must tell you the offense you have committed and the act of the law which you have broken. Failure to provide your details when being served a fine (£90) for possession can lead to arrest and detention at a police station.

Stop and Account Search

Nevertheless, police have the power to stop you while driving or in a public space and to request you to explain why you are in the place. They want to ensure you have a valid reason for being there. This approach is termed Stop and Account and aims to assist in eradicating doubt of suspicious activity in a given area. The police will inform you that they want to perform a Stop and Search on you after providing you with a valid reason. For example, when they have a legitimate basis to believe that you may possess that is in breach of the law or one that you should not possess. In a Stop and Search, there have to be at least two officers present. If it is a female being searched, only a female officer can search.

·      Adults (18+) in Possession of Cannabis

Possession of cannabis is prohibited under section 5 of the MDA71. If caught in possession and considering arrest and confiscation of the substance, police are likely to:

Give a cannabis warning for first-time possession offense in a written document. The warning should neither appear on the PCN or CRB records.

Provide a Penalty Notice for Disorder. This is for a second offense as £90 fine on the spot. Offenders must pay this within 14 days, failure to which they risk going to court.

Make an arrest. Arrests are for third-time offenders caught in possession of cannabis or if the possession is beyond a certain weight. Arrests can lead to court convictions and a consequent criminal record.

·      Supplying Cannabis

The supply of controlled substances is restricted under section 4 of the MDA71. Supply encompasses the act of sharing a joint, offering a bag, picking up an extra bag for a friend while getting your own, and simple actions such as giving for free or buy cannabis online, despite the quantity. If the authorities raid your premises and find items such as scales and baggies and other evidence such as tick lists that point to dealing, then you will face charges of “possession with intent to supply.” The act outlines a punishment of not less than three years of imprisonment. The weight of substance found in possession, as well as the circumstances, will determine the severity of the punishment. Low-level dealers may receive a suspended sentence, but this is not guaranteed.

·      Cultivation and Production

Section 6 of the MDA71 prohibits the cultivation of cannabis without a valid license from the home officers. Cultivation encompasses the germination of cannabis seeds, tending of cannabis plants, rooted cuttings as well as drying and harvesting of plants. Production is an escalated charge of cultivation marked by an organized nature, an elevated scale of operation or the population of plants exceeds the limit (25 plants) outlined by the court sentencing guidelines. Exceeding 25 plants coupled with other incriminating evidence such as scales and communication, are significant factors. Production has a more severe punishment that cultivation.