UK cannabis law, policing & punishment
If you are going to break the law you should know what the law is and what the consequences are so you can make an informed decision.
It pains us to say it, but unless you have a medical condition that qualifies you and a specialist doctor has written you a prescription – cannabis is prohibited in the UK. Yes, that’s right, cannabis is illegal for healthy people!
Whether you live in the UK and need to brush up your knowledge so at least one of your mates knows the score, or you’re planning a trip from abroad and want to know what the law is, we think you’re in just the right place!
In the UK, illegal drugs are classified into three main categories. They can be Class A, B or C, with A attracting the most serious punishments and fines.
Each drug is designated as controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and is allocated to a class based on the harm it is considered to cause.
Cannabis is a Class B Drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. Although it is given the title of a “controlled substance” there is actually very little control that anyone has over it. The commercial market is completely illicit leaving the main share controlled by organised crime and completely unregulated. There is no control over who produces it, who sells it, who it is sold to, or even that the quality of the product is safe to consume.
Under the Misuse of Drugs Act, witout the appropriate licence, it is an offence to:
- unlawfully possess a controlled drug.
- possess a controlled drug with intent to supply it.
- unlawfully supply (sell/give/share) a controlled drug
- cultivate and manufacture drugs.
- allow a premises you occupy or manage to be used for the smoking or use of drugs
A quick overview of UK cannabis law and the misuse of drugs act 1971
Adults (18+) in possession of cannabis.
Section 5 of the MDA71 prohibits possession. If caught in possession of cannabis, as well as considering arrest and confiscating the drug, police are likely to:
- Give a cannabis warning for a first offence of possession – this is a written warning that does not show up on the PCN and should not show on CRB/DBS checks often carried out by employers or when applying for an international visa.
- Give a Penalty Notice for Disorder (PND) – this is an on-the-spot fine of £90 for a second offence. You must pay this within 21 days or face going to magistrates court.
- Make an arrest if it is the third offence of having been caught with cannabis or if it is over a certain weight – this could lead to conviction in court and a criminal record.
Section 4 of the MDA71 restricts the supplying of controlled substances.
What is supply? Supply is anything from sharing a joint, offering or physically picking up another bag for your friend while you are getting your own, and even giving it away for free, no matter the quantity.
If you are involved in a raid on your premises where scales and baggies are found, things like tick lists and other evidence of dealing, the chances are very high that you will be charged under “possession with intent to supply”.
Punishment ranges from three to fourteen years in prison. Sentencing Guidelines suggest different punishment severity depending on the circumstances and the weight of the controlled substance found.
Note: Typically low level dealers are given suspended sentences but this should not be taken as a given.
Cultivation & production
Section 6 of the MDA71 states cultivation is prohibited without holding a valid Home Office issued licence.
Cultivation includes the germination of cannabis seeds, the tending of plants, rooted cuttings, harvesting and drying of plants.
Production is an escalated charge of cultivation whereby the organised nature, scale of the operation or number of plants surpasses a limit set out by the Court Sentencing Guidelines.
This limit is 25 plants and other supporting evidence such as scales, communications and baggies can play a factor. It carries a higher sentencing recommendation than cultivation.
Note: Sentencing Guidelines for 7 plants and under is recommended if you do choose to break the law, as this will result in a suspended sentence for first time offenders.
Frequently asked questions
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about cannabis law and policing in the UK.
What is the law on cannabis in the UK?
How does the cannabis law work in the UK?
What is the UK's CBD law?