Brexit: How Will The EU Referendum Affect Cannabis Policy?

There are as many arguments as to leave or remain in the Union as there are people within the UK it seems… However here is one you likely haven’t considered yet. What does it mean to me as a cannabis consumer?

As part of our community, we often have greater concern over specific aspects of law or medical provision, even over travel, than many of our fellow citizens. It is important for us, not only as members of the public, but also cannabis consumers, to look at the implications of Brexit on this topic.

It may initially seem as the option to leave the EU has little to do with cannabis, nor would its enactment impact upon its use upon our fair shores.

But that isn’t strictly the case.

It goes without saying that, in general, the EU stays out of an individual counties drug polices, but as a body it advocates for a more liberal and non-punitive approach to drugs. In fact we, accompanied by the French, pull the EU backwards in this respect. It is thought by many that our EU based human rights give some strong protections to cannabis use, and are partially responsible for the legal shift in the way its users were prosecuted from the late 80’s and early 90’s. One could also point to their supportive attitude to Portugal’s solution to their countries drug problems. In fact The UKCSC’s vey right to function and exist, and legal right to campaign and operate, is based in ECOD membership, an EU institution… We may have no protection should the UK leave the EU…

Whereas within the UK, despite seeing real interest from individual lawmakers and politicians, most main parties seem totally disinterested in the recreational side of cannabis legislation, neither publicly nor privately.

Though it is also however true that the protection of the EU stops any current UK gov putting overly harsh penalties for cannabis use in place, that policies reversal would be unlikely to be in the interests of the nation after Brexit, regardless of the result.

But it would be possible.

The maximum sentence for possession of even 0.01 grams of cannabis remains, officially, 14 years in prison…

In terms of Medical use, currently, in the UK, this is facilitated in one of two ways. Firstly, via a NHS prescription for Sativex for MS only (or if a private doctor, whatever condition they are willing to prescribe for); or, (if you are lucky another to have either another EU address, or another EU passport) via a Schengen certificate for whatever EU based cannabis based medication that is prescribed, including Bedrocan.

You may then consume this in the UK, legally.

This is based totally upon the Schengen portion of our EU membership. Any Brexit, would mean that many hundreds of medical users would be impacted by their inability to receive their medications, or travel with them within the EU.

This is important, as we would, if we left the EU, be in the same position as all other international nations; that of wanting to move an internationally recognised schedule 1 substance, from one country to another. And realising that it is impossible to do so, as no license for medical use can be given for a substance, that by definition, “has no medical or scientific value”… (yes that’s insane in and of itself, but that’s a whole other article…).

We can do this currently within the EU as we have the ability to move ANY medicine that is prescribed, in theory, under the EU regulations. But it only applies to those nations. Even legal medical users in the USA CANNOT bring their medication to the EU, nor access it there without residency in that nation.

We would function in the same way.

This also impacts medical tourism, as currently any medical users that can’t qualify for a Schengen certificate in the UK has the choice to move to another EU nation that offers cannabis based medication as a treatment for their condition. Often unable to work, often on disability payments…

Any Brexit would mean many would be denied the right to move to a country that would not seek to criminalise them for their use of cannabis for medicinal purposes.

This also however feeds into the typical person’s recreational rights. With the removal of the Schengen free movement zone the right of any UK national to move and settle in an EU nation that was more cannabis friendly, would be seriously curtailed. Rights of residence to those already living abroad has still to be settled, but it’s likely those WITHOUT criminal records, and already resident, should not be affected, either way.

The same cannot be be said of those with convictions or cautions, say for cannabis offenses; nor for any future long-term residency status.

Residency aside, even access to countries that produce cannabis, or have a more liberated attitude to consumption, say the Netherlands with its coffee shops, or Spain and its cannabis clubs, will likely re-enforce border controls again in the event of a Brexit, with visas being required, likely with criminal background checks being needed again for most EU countries.

Current rules usually stipulate “no drug convictions”, something that doesn’t apply currently to EU travel. This alone could impact many thousands every year that take holidays abroad or seek to move abroad, who also have some form of conviction for cannabis.

Even access to the coffee shops and clubs could be in doubt. One Dutch political party recently, while in power, tried to ban all non-Dutch nationals from all cannabis coffee shops to discourage canna-tourism, (I’m sure you can guess which side of the spectrum they fall)… It was almost enacted, but found to breach EU law as it was prejudice to other EU nationals. It is possible if any such ban was ever enacted again it would be on non-EU nationals, Likewise, restricting clubs in Spain to ‘locals only’ is likely to also eventually fall foul of EU equality laws… If either restricted access to EU nationals only, and we were no longer part of the EU, it could see us banned from some places we have grown to love over the decades…

It also goes further than direct access to medical or recreational cannabis friendly countries however. Our own legal process, medical research, and medical laws are currently under review in the UK, with Medical access being touted as coming up for actual policy enactment within the next 18 months. When that happens, we will currently have access to all EU cannabis based mediation. However if it is just us, on our own, it would likely entail only our currently UK licensed drugs, ie those tested by the MRHA. Then of course it would be just be GW pharmaceuticals products. Who, despite a growing catalogue of drugs coming to market, cannot offer cannabis products for all conditions or patients, nor at a cost effective level for the NHS to make use of.

Likewise many of our budding new canna-companies, like the gro-Light producers and seed banks, up and down the country, as well as various other key canna-businesses, that all rely on EU sales, set to be penalised by any exit from the union.

These would be likely to be taxed quite differently after a Leave vote, likely making them far less competitive than EU products, and puts us in direct competition with the cheaper Chinese glass and vapour tech manufacturers.

This is without the ramifications for UK cannabis consumers potentially losing their Human Rights under a Conservative government as the result of a Brexit, who are also redrawing a new Justice Bill…

The odds are high indeed!

And these are all important points to consider… and yes, while it is true that a far bigger influence on UK cannabis policy will be the party in control of the country after the next election, it is naive to think that being part of the EU, or leaving it, will not have an impact on cannabis law and consumption in the UK.

Consider your vote carefully, the impact maybe deeper than you think.

Stuart Harper is the Political Liaison Officer for NORML UK, The National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws in the United Kingdom. 

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Comments (5)

  1. Factcheck The maximum penalty for possession of cannabis is NOT 14 years. It has never been 14 years. This is not an easy mistake to make. It is 5 years.
  2. Very good article, something I thought could happen! Peter from clear believes we should leave the EU and I think this will hamper his good work and our civil liberties! And to think that cameron used to smoke a pliff!
  3. […] I hope that as more countries worldwide relax cannabis laws our Government will finally see that this is the sensible way to move forward. It is likely that the EU will eventually hold an eu-wide referendum on cannabis, and it would be a big shame to see us leave the EU before this has the change to come to fruition. See this article on UKCSC for more info on how Brexit could affect cannabis legalisation in the UK. […]

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