Is cannabis legal in the UK in 2018?

The UK’s legal approach to cannabis has undergone significant changes in 2018, but we’re still some way from following in the footsteps of Canada and other 420-friendly countries.

Public opinion around the use of cannabis, both medicinal and recreational, has moved forward at a swift pace in recent years. This week, Canada became the first G8 country to fully legalise cannabis for recreational use, following the government’s decision—in 2001—to legalise the drug for medicinal purposes.

Marijuana advocates have spent decades arguing that it would be in everyone’s best interests for the drug to be taken out of the shadow economy and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, elected in 2015, was far from shy about expressing his public support for legalisation after becoming leader of the Liberal Party in 2013.


All around the world, governments are looking to Canada to see how their landmark decision will affect the country’s economy and impact on key social issues such as rates of crime and drug addiction.

The so-called ‘Green Rush’ of investors keen to capitalise on its legalisation means Canada’s numerous marijuana companies are now valued at billions of Canadian dollars and politicians are becoming increasingly open-minded about the possibilities of a fully regulated and taxed cannabis industry.

In the UK, many are wondering: how far has the law changed regarding cannabis in recent years and what is the legal history of cannabis in the UK?

Is cannabis legal in the UK as of 2018?

In March 2016, the Liberal Democrats became the first major political party in the UK to support the legalisation of cannabis.

However, under current law, cannabis remains a controlled Class B substance and it is illegal to grow the drug, possess it for personal use and supply it to others.

Due to its Class B status, possession of cannabis carries a maximum prison sentence of five years and is subject to an unlimited fine, but the reality of law enforcement around cannabis tends to be far less severe.

For instance, in 2015, County Durham’s police and crime commissioner Ron Hogg announced that, due to limited resources in the police force’s budget, they would no longer pursue pot smokers or small-scale producers of the drug, preferring to focus instead on gang violence and other forms of organised crime.

The drug’s medical status is currently under review and home secretary Sajid Javid announced that cannabis-derived medicines would be available for prescription as of November 1, 2018.

This follows a number of high profile cases in which the parents of children who suffer from intractable epilepsy have asked that they be allowed to give their children cannabis oil to ease the symptoms of their condition.

What is the legal history of cannabis in the UK?

The first piece of legislation to cover cannabis use in the UK came into effect in 1928. The Dangerous Drugs Act had been passed in 1920 to cover the use and supply of cocaine, opium and morphine, and cannabis was then added to that list in a 1928 amendment.

In 1971 the Misuse of Drugs Act was introduced by the Conservative government’s Home Secretary Reginald Maudling and passed by Parliament. This act began the system of different class systems for drugs in the UK, with cannabis being listed as Class B along with amphetamines, barbiturates, codeine, ritalin, synthetic cannabinoids, synthetic cathinones and ketamine.

Class B is the middle category of the three drug classifications in the UK—below Class A, which includes drugs such as cocaine, ecstasy (MDMA), heroin, LSD, magic mushrooms, methadone and methamphetamine (crystal meth), and above Class C, which encompasses drugs such as anabolic steroids, benzodiazepines (diazepam), GHB and khat.

In 2001, then Home Secretary David Blunkett announced that cannabis would be reclassified and downgraded from Class B to Class C, thereby removing the threat of arrest for those caught in possession of the drug. However, in January 2009, cannabis was reclassified once again and returned to its former Class B status.