After the Liberal Democrats became the first mainstream political party in the UK to call for the legalisation of cannabis, this article considers whether any such move is desirable.
The Current Law on Cannabis
In the UK, Cannabis is currently classified as a ‘Class B’ controlled drug. Its possession and supply is strictly prohibited.
Typically, cannabis users are dealt with in the following ways:-
- 1st time offender – a ‘Cannabis Warning’ will be issued
- 2nd time offender – a Penalty Notice of Disorder (£80 fine) will be issued
- 3rd time offender – an arrest will be made and a custodial sentence of up to 5 years’ imprisonment imposed, plus an unlimited fine
Those concerned in the supply of cannabis face up to 14 years’ imprisonment.
Supporters of the current legal position point to the harmful health effects of the drug, which has been linked to psychotic illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Some also see the drug as a gateway to harder substances.
Critics, meanwhile, argue that the prohibition has been ineffective, with cannabis use as popular and widespread as ever. Moreover, they say, it serves to criminalise users, waste police and court resources, and feed the criminal underworld.
How are the Liberal Democrats proposing changing Drugs Legislation?
The Liberal Democrats feel that real change is needed in this area and have made the following proposals:-
- Allowing the sale of cannabis to over 18s from specialist, licensed retail stores. It also proposes allowing home-cultivation for personal use and small scale licensed cannabis social clubs.
- A new regulator to oversee the market.
- Regulation around the price, potency and packaging of cannabis available from retailers, with policy informed by evidence and best practice in tobacco and alcohol regulation.
- Single purpose outlets to sell cannabis modelled on pharmacies.
- Cannabis would be sold over the counter by trained and licensed vendors, in plain packaging with clear health and risk reduction information.
Cannabis Legislation – what next?
There does appear to be a strong case for cannabis possession, and personal drug use being dealt with as a health issue, rather than as a criminal justice one clogging up the increasingly sparse resources of the police forces, the prison system and the courts.
Not only is the law ineffective in its current form, it feeds the criminal underworld and, in so doing, deprives the Government of a significant tax revenue.
If the UK were to legalise cannabis, it would join a growing number of jurisdictions, such as Netherlands, Uruguay, Spain, and certain US States like Colorado and Washington, where experimental approaches to the drug’s regulation have been adopted.
Any move toward legalisation is, however, likely to meet fierce resistance along the way and is some way off being implemented. One need only consider the furore which followed the de-classification of the drug in 2004 from a ‘Class B’ to a ‘Class C’, ultimately resulting in its re-classification to a ‘Class B’ in 2009.
One thing is for certain: the clamour for change in this area is not going away any time soon.
Olliers Solicitors – Specialist Criminal Defence Solicitors
Written by Sami Halpern, Trainee Solicitor. Sami is based within our Magistrates’ Department and currently undertaking his training to become an accredited police station representative.If you face allegations relating to drugs and would like some advice, contact our specialist drugs lawyers on 0161 834 1515.