UK Cannabis Legal Guidelines

Cannabis prohibition in the UK restricts research and deprives the British public of a valuable medicine. This section explores the penalties you could face for breaking cannabis laws in the United Kingdom

Cannabis is not recognised as having any therapeutic value under the law in England and Wales, and a person can commit any range of offences including possession and supply.

However, there is a cannabis-based product – Sativex – which can be legally prescribed and supplied in limited circumstances.

In 2006 the Home Office licensed Sativex so that:
– Doctors, at their own risk, could privately prescribe,
– Pharmacists could possess and dispense, and named patients with a prescription could possess.

In June 2010 the Medicines Healthcare Regulatory products Agency (MHRA) authorised Sativex as an extra treatment for patients with spasticity due to Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Doctors can also prescribe it for other things outside of the authorisation, but this is at their own risk.

Since April 2013 Sativex has been separated from Cannabis – Schedule 4 now applies instead of the old Home Office licence. However, it is still a Class B drug and so possession, supply, possession with intent to supply, importation and exportation are all still offences outside of this. Re-supply of prescribed medication (except to a person legally allowed to possess it) is unlawful supply.

Additionally, a person who doesn’t disclose, or makes a false statement about, having already been prescribed Sativex to get more supplies from another Doctor will not be legally in possession of any drugs they get as a result of failing to disclose or making a false statement.

Cannabis Offence Guidelines

Maximum sentence – 5 years imprisonment and/or a fine.

Possession with Intent To Supply
Maximum sentence – 14 years and/or a fine.

Supply (including being concerned in supply, conspiracy to supply, aggravated supply and offer to supply)
Maximum sentence – 14 years and/or a fine

Maximum sentence – 14 years and/or a fine

Cultivation of a cannabis plant
Maximum sentence – 14 years and/or a fine.

In practice maximum sentences are rarely used, for more detailed and accurate information go to our sentencing page.

Cannabis Possession Guidelines

Guidelines issued by the Association of Chief Police Officers (‘ACPO’) advise police officers to take an ‘escalating’ approach to the policing of cannabis possession. It outlines three possible responses for officers to take where they believe they have found an individual in possession of cannabis for personal use:

1. Cannabis Warnings
A person found in possession of cannabis for the first time can receive a cannabis warning if there are no aggravating factors (please see below). Where a police officer decides to proceed with a cannabis warning the individual should be warned that:
– a record of the investigation will be made at the police station;
– the offence of possession will be recorded against them, for statistical purposes, as a detected crime;
– this procedure does not constitute a criminal record.

2. Penalty Notice for Disorder (PND)
Where someone has already received a cannabis warning and is again caught in possession, then the police have the discretion to issue an on the spot fine (‘PND’) for £80.00. If the PND is paid within 21 days no further action will be taken and no criminal record will exist. A PND can be challenged, and if challenged will result in criminal proceedings at the Magistrates Court. Failure to pay will result in a fine for the original penalty plus 50% (£120) being registered against the defendant at their local Magistrates’ Court. A person has a right to refuse a PND but this will probably result in arrest.

3. Arrest
An individual who has received a cannabis warning and a PND and is caught again for cannabis possession should be arrested and taken to the police station. At this point, and depending on the circumstances, either the matter will be dealt with by way of charge, caution or no further action (including the possibility of issuing a further cannabis warning or a PND).
If a person is caught in possession for cannabis and there is one or more aggravating condition present then they may be arrested. The following are considered to be aggravating conditions:
– smoking in a public place;
– where there is a locally identified policing problem;
– if the person is aged 17 or under;
– someone considered to be vulnerable;
– if the individual is a repeat or persistent offender.
– If caught in possession of a small amount of cannabis for personal use
AND you have never received either a cannabis warning or a PND
AND where none of the aggravating conditions are present
AND the police deal with the matter either by issuing a caution or charging
N.B – The above guidelines apply to adults only. Those aged 17 or under will be given a Youth Caution or they may face prosecution. The guidelines do state that arrest is not necessary in all cases involving young people and where possible they should be taken home to their parents/ guardians – where this occurs action can be taken at a later date.

For further information, please visit the Release website.

Disclaimer: If you are arrested or charged with a cannabis offence then you must seek legal advice from a suitably qualified professional, contact Release for qualified legal advice.