Is Weed Legal In The UK? A Short History And Analysis Of British Laws

This article was originally published on 2Fast4Buds and appears here with permission.

Anyone with even a passing interest in cannabis reform cannot ignore the sweeping changes happening right now all over the world. Marijuana is already legal in Canada and 16 US states, and Germany has pledged to fully legalize it before the next election term. No wonder more and more Brits ask the question: is weed legal in UK yet? And the question isn’t as naive as you may think.

Weed isn’t legal in the UK at the moment. Moreover, even the possession of personal amounts isn’t decriminalized, and the national program of has yet to take off. But a sober analysis of the history of cannabis prohibition and the recent tentative changes in British laws shows that the legal status of cannabis may change here in the not too distant future.


Cannabis prohibition is a relatively new phenomenon. For centuries, the cannabis plant was just another crop that was used to make ropes and clothes. In the 19th century, its medicinal properties were recognized and cannabis became a prominent part of Western pharmacopeia.

It was only in the 20th century that Westerners, mostly in the USA, became wildly aware of the recreational use of cannabis, as well as opium and other substances, by poor immigrants. Perceiving it as a new and grave threat, the powers that be started with the prohibition.

The derogatory term “marijuana”, probably of Mexican origin, is a testimony of the rampant xenophobia underlying cannabis prohibition from the start. Anti-cannabis laws first appeared in individual states, then were adopted federally. And the growing influence of the United States on the global stage and the rise of international organizations helped spread the prohibition to other countries, including the UK.

In a similar vein, Great Britain itself encountered the widespread traditional use of cannabis in its colonies, and when the prohibition began, it first affected the colonies and only then the parent state.

It took many decades of “war on drugs” and “zero tolerance” before the idea of a less militant  was introduced by cannabis advocates and gradually took hold.


The cannabis laws UK adopted when it signed the relevant international treaties are codified in the 1971 Dangerous Drugs Act. The Act specifies four main classes of illicit substances, and cannabis is in the second most restrictive Class B. This group also includes amphetamines and ketamine.

  Drug Possession Production/Supply
Class B Cannabis, synthetic cannabinoids, ketamine, amphetamines, barbiturates & others Up to 5 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both Up to 14 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both

Is marijuana legal in UK? The law says it isn’t.
Interestingly, before this law came into force, doctors could recommend cannabis medicine to their patients although the drug had been illegal for recreational use since 1928. Growing cannabis plants in the UK was prohibited in 1964.

Nothing was happening on the legalization front till the end of the century, except that the public had to open its eyes to the fact that marijuana smoking was spreading more and more widely among white middle-class kids with no prior conviction. With more than 11,000 arrests made annually by 1973, it stopped being a fringe issue.


The Labour Party made an attempt to effectively decriminalize the drug by downgrading it to Class C in 2001. The move meant that the penalties for personal possession, use, and production would be minimal, and the sentences for supply (selling or sharing) would be drastically reduced.

This was a success as, according to the Home Office, the police saved about 199,000 hours in 2005 alone, focusing instead on real crime. Yet despite a promising beginning, in 2007, the then prime minister Gordon Brown moved cannabis back to Class B where it has remained ever since. While making this hasty decision, Prime Minister ignored what his own Council on the Misuse of Drugs had advised.


In 2018, Great Britain grudgingly legalized the medicinal use of the substance. The injustice of prohibiting access to medical marijuana for seriously ill people was highlighted by the case of two children—Billy Caldwell, 12, and Alfie Dingley, 6—who were using cannabis oil with low THC content for severe epilepsy.

After the police interfered and …

Full story available on

More Is Weed Legal In The UK? A Short History And Analysis Of British Laws