Cannabis reform has taken place throughout most significant countries over the last decade. Between the legalization of recreational cannabis in Canada, the U.S. 2018 Hemp Farm Bill, and the many states that have implemented recreational or medicinal cannabis programs in America, it’s no wonder the legal cannabis market is worth $26.4 globally.
Yet, the United Kingdom remains one of the few significant countries with archaic cannabis laws.
Is Cannabis Legal in the United Kingdom?
The penalties for cannabis or synthetic-cannabinoid possession in the UK are “up to five years in prison, an unlimited fine, or both.” Supply and production of such substances can result in up to 14 years in prison, an unlimited fine, or both.
Smoking cannabis or consuming cannabis-based products is still prohibited, despite the revisions made in 2018.
Is Medicinal Cannabis Legal in the United Kingdom?
Yes and no. The UK government defines a “cannabis-based product for medicinal use in humans” as a product that contains cannabis, cannabis resin, cannabinol (CBN), or a cannabinol derivative. These products must meet the following requirements as well:
- It is specifically produced for medical use in humans (not for recreational consumption)
- Cannabis is a substance or ingredient used in the production of a medicinal product (i.e., used with another pharmaceutical ingredient to create a cannabis-based prescription medicine)
Cannabis-based medicines in the UK are classified as Schedule 2 drugs, which means they’re recognized as having a therapeutic value. However, Schedule 2 drugs must be prescribed by a doctor for lawful consumption.
Additionally, all cannabis-based medicines apart from Sativex are currently unlicensed or “special medicinal products.” Only certain physicians on the specialist register of the General Medical Council are permitted to prescribe unlicensed medicinal cannabis.
Who Qualifies for Medical Cannabis in the United Kingdom?
Your eligibility for medical cannabis in the UK largely depends on whether your specialist is willing to prescribe it for your condition, explains the NHS. The prescription must be written by a specialist and not your general practitioner.
As seen in a British Medical Journal review, many specialists are against medical cannabis due to a perceived “lack of scientific evidence” supporting its efficacy. Many specialists are also unfamiliar with medicinal cannabis products, so they’re uncomfortable prescribing a substance they don’t know much about.
Cannabis-based medicines are also quite expensive in the UK. According to the review, some private providers charge at least £1000 per month for them. As a result, many patients and parents of child-patients are priced out of receiving medicinal cannabis and go overseas to seek affordable treatment options.
What About the Cancard?
More recently, the Cancard program was launched in the UK. Cancard seeks to make cannabis-based medicines more accessible by providing resources about the cost of various cannabis medicines.
Cancard also protects medical cannabis users by providing them with an ID card to show police officers if they’re wrongfully detained for possession.
The card membership costs £30.00 with an annual renewal fee of £20.00. To apply, you’ll need to provide:
- Your passport or driver’s license
- Your NHS number
- The name and contact information of your GP, as well as a Summary Care Record
Furthermore, you must be over 18-years-old and have one of the following qualifying conditions to apply for Cancard:
- Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder
- Arthritis / Rheumatoid arthritis
- Autism spectrum disorder
- Cerebral palsy
- Chronic pain
- Cluster headaches
- Crohn’s disease
- Functional neurological disorder
- Motor neuron disease
- Multiple sclerosis
- Neuropathic pain
- Inflammatory bowel syndrome
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Tourette’s Syndrome
- Ulcerative colitis
Why is Cannabis Still Illegal in the United Kingdom?
Despite the abundance of research that demonstrates cannabis’ anti-inflammatory, antiepileptic, pain, nausea, and anxiety-relieving properties, legislators and specialists in the UK remain skeptical about fully legalizing cannabis.
With that said, many advocates throughout the country are still adamantly pursuing cannabis reform.
In addition to those who supported the launch of Cancard, Health Poverty Action has taken a vocal stance for the regulation and taxation of cannabis in the UK. Their experts estimate taxing cannabis would generate £1 billion in annual revenue. Legalization would also save money that would otherwise be spent on pursuing nonviolent cannabis offenses.
Although cannabis reform is taking place worldwide, the UK still lags and upholds cannabis as a class B drug.
In recent years, the government has approved cannabis-based medicines for a growing list of qualifying conditions. However, these medicines are considered Schedule 2 drugs and require a prescription from a specialist to use them lawfully.
Many specialists remain skeptical of prescribing cannabis in the UK, mainly due to their lack of awareness of its therapeutic benefits. But with the launch of Cancard and many other organizations advocating for cannabis reform in the UK, this will likely change soon.
- “Canada just legalized recreational pot. Here’s what you need to know” via CNN
- “Hemp Production and the 2018 Farm Bill” via the U.S. Food & Drug Administration
- “MAP OF MARIJUANA LEGALITY BY STATE” via DISA
- “Global legal cannabis market size from 2014 to 2024” via Statista
- “Home Office Circular 2018: Rescheduling of cannabis-based products for medicinal use in humans” via the UK Crime, Policing and Fire Group (CPFG) – Drugs and Alcohol Unit
- “Drug Penalties” via the UK Government
- “Cannabinol” via PubChem
- “Drug Schedules” via Release Legal Emergency & Drugs Service Ltd
- “The Medical Register” via the UK General Medical Council
- “Government announces that medicinal cannabis is legal” via the UK Government
- “So near yet so far: why won’t the UK prescribe medical cannabis?” via the British Medical Journal
- “Cancard” via Cancard
- “Cancard FAQ” via Cancard
- “Therapeutic Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids” via the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
- “UK Cannabis Reform” via Health Poverty Action
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