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Drug laws and licensing

Cannabis reclassification

The Government's decision to reclassify cannabis as a Class B drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 was announced by Home Secretary Jacqui Smith on 7 May 2008.

The necessary legislation will be debated in both Houses of Parliament this autumn and, if approved, reclassification will take effect from 26 January 2009.  Until the reclassification is approved, cannabis remains a Class C drug.

The decision follows a review of cannabis classification which was carried out by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) at the request of the Prime Minister.

The government accepted 20 of the 21 recommendations from the ACMD report.  The government published their response on the 13 October 2008.

Current penalties related to cannabis

Until the reclassification comes into force, though, cannabis remains a Class C drug. Current penalties are listed below.

Penalties for supply, dealing, production and trafficking

The maximum penalty is 14 years imprisonment. This has increased from five years (the maximum penalty is the same for Class B drugs).

Penalties for possession

The maximum penalty was reduced from five years to two years imprisonment in 2004, but it will return to five years if Parliament approves the reclassification to Class B.

Young people in possession of cannabis

A young person found to be in possession of cannabis will be arrested and taken to a police station where they can receive a reprimand, final warning or charge depending on the seriousness of the offence. This must be administered in the presence of an appropriate adult.

Following one reprimand, any further offence will lead to a final warning or charge. Any further offence following a warning will normally result in criminal charges. After a final warning, the young offender must be referred to a Youth Offending Team to arrange a rehabilitation programme.

This police enforcement is consistent with the structured framework for early juvenile offending established under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998.

Adults in possession of cannabis

Since 2006, whether or not an adult is arrested is subject to a test of necessity under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005. Most first offences of possession are likely to result in a warning and confiscation of the drug. But some instances – for example, where aggravating circumstances apply – may lead to arrest and possible caution or prosecution. 

See Also

For practitioners

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Home Office websites