On 1 April, 2021 the UK Sentencing Council published new guidelines nine years after its last update in 2012. The UKCSC have no input on this matter. The only sentencing guidelines we believe are really needed around cannabis are to protect minors from being sold products and if people are selling contaminated cannabis knowingly.
Sentencing guidelines are put together as a resource for the prosecution and judges presiding over cases, giving them some assistance on what the nature of the punishments should be. The document insists it intends that the punishment fit the crime.
Each time the guidelines are released it is hoped by campaigners and activists that sentences are relaxed for non-violent offences such as drug convictions. It is in a way a marker to track our progress to see if we are edging ever closer to people being free from persecution over drug offences; in the case of many of our readers, regarding cannabis.
Sadly after ten years of Conservative government we are seeing backwards steps, with harsher sentences being imposed on those cultivating cannabis.
What has changed?
At a quick glance, not a considerable amount, and if there’s no good news, it’s bad news because that means no progress.
Sentences for possession, supply, importation and cultivation still range from a fine and community order to a maximum of 14 years in prison.
Limits on possession and supply have not changed for cannabis.
The news is worse when it comes to cultivation.
Previously in 2012 under the cultivation sentencing guidelines, Category 3 stated that 28 plants would put you in a sentencing category of a low level community order – 26 weeks in custody for a lesser role; 26 weeks to 3 years for a significant role; and 2 years, 5 months to 5 years for a leading role. This has now taken a step backwards and been dropped down to 20 plants, meaning that, overnight, if you were growing over 21 plants, the sentencing category you run a risk of being punished under just got a harsher.
The 20 Plant limit is categorised next to 150 grams of heroin or cocaine, 200 ecstasy pills, 150g of MDMA, 2500 LSD tabs, 750g of amphetamine, 150g of ketamine and small amounts of synthetic cannabinoids like ‘spice’.
28 plants would carry a custodial sentences between 26 weeks (6 months) – 6 years.
In Category 4 it was previously stated that 9 plants would result in a discharge to a low level community order for a lesser role; a low level to high level community order for a significant role; but a 1 to 3 year sentence for a significant role (evidence of dealing and profit incentive) – a non custodial sentence for 9 plants for personal use is how this is interpreted in the courts – the premise and foundation of the UKCSC advising cultivators to stick to this as a limit as a way to reduce harm to them by the impact of the law. This has now dropped down to 7 plants, meaning if you were growing 8 or more on the morning of 1 April the sentencing category you fall under changed.
The 7 plant limit is categorised next to 5g of heroin or cocaine, 13 ecstasy pills, 5g of MDMA, 170 LSD tabs, 20g of amphetamine, 5g of ketamine and smaller amounts of synthetic cannabinoids.
The other thing that has changed here is the assumed yield per plant. This has risen from 40g to 55g. This number is arrived at from the averages they take from crops confiscated on raids, indicating that growers who have been busted have been yielding an average of 15g higher per plant over the past 9 years compared to the previous 9.
28 plants yielding 40g each is 1,120g. 20 plants yielding 55g each is 1,100g. So this means they have actually sliced 20g off of the yield they anticipate you to have in Category 3.
9 plants yielding 40g each is 360g. 7 plants yielding 55g each is 385g, meaning they allow you to grow 20g more as an anticipated yield to remain in Category 4, 25g more.
I seriously doubt this simple maths was done by anyone on the sentencing council, showing you just how much they think about “the punishment fitting the crime”.
A change in mitigating factors.
In 2012 the Sentencing Council removed the right to use having a medical condition as a mitigating circumstance in a court case, meaning it didn’t matter and didn’t count. You could be dying and the Judges were advised not to consider it as a matter when ruling a sentence. This is of course very out of date in 2021, two and a half years after legislation has been passed in the UK to confirm that cannabis has a real and valid medical use (GW Pharmaceuticals just received the Queen’s Award for business innovation so clearly it has been effective for 23 years at least). As a probable result of this law change, the right to use your medical condition as a mitigating circumstance has been restored – but do not interpret this as meaning that a medical condition will get you off of any sentencing. Every case is taken on a case-by-case basis.
What does all this mean for those running a Collective? If you were operating as a Collective growing up to 28 plants and sharing the produce from the grow between your members, you may want to consider reducing your plant limit to 20.
If you are growing 9 plants for personal use for the reason of being in the lowest sentencing category you may wish to consider reducing your plant limit to 7.
So not see this as conceeding, rather simply as stated above, a harm reduction action to protect yourself from harsher unjust punishment.
Should you be worried or concerned about all of this?
Yes. This is an assault on your freedom, and your right to choose what you put in your body, your right to medicate yourself. It is an affront to health care and justice.
At a time in our political history when the government has been proven to have lied about cannabis, ministers and their spouses are able to profiteer off of the cultivation and mass export of the plant while prosecuting people who grow 7 plants or supply desperate and vulnerable patients with life-saving cannabis products for free or affordable price.
Here is a link to the Sentencing Councils Drug Offences Guidelines for 2021:
Cannabis and all parts of it are a Class B drug when referring to any of the tables.
There are individual advice pages for each of the following:
- Importation (Fraudulent evasion of a prohibition by bringing into or taking out of the UK a controlled drug)
- Production of a controlled drug/Cultivation of cannabis plant
- Supplying or offering to supply a controlled drug/Possession of a controlled drug with intent to supply it to another
- Permitting premises to be used
- Possession of a controlled drug
- Importing or exporting a psychoactive substance
- Producing a psychoactive substance
- Supplying, or offering to supply, a psychoactive substance/Possession of psychoactive substance with intent to supply
Please leave a comment below with your thoughts on this change in Sentencing Guidelines. Remember, this is not a law change, just a change in the advice that Judges are given when it comes to the task of putting people like us in prison for doing non violent things, victimising no one. What do you think the community’s response should be? What needs to be done to counter this? Your thoughts are invaluable to us.