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Cannabis classification

Cannabis is scheduled to be reclassified to a Class B drug in 2009.

The Home Secretary has recommended that cannabis should be reclassified to a Class B drug.

Reasons behind the change

A parliamentary order has been submitted to reclassify the drug to Class B. The change is expected to come into law 26 January 2009.

The government’s decision to reclassify cannabis as a Class B drug was announced in May 2008. The decision sits within the over-arching aims of the government’s 10-year drug strategy – Drugs: protecting families and communities (new window).

The decision follows a review of cannabis classification which was carried out by the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs (new window), at the request of the Prime Minister. The ACMD’s full report (new window) is on the Home Office drugs website.

The government accepted 20 of the 21 recommendations from the ACMD report. The government’s response to the ACMD report (new window) explains its decision in detail.

Why reclassify now?

The move to reclassify cannabis reflects the fact that skunk, a much stronger version of the drug, now dominates the UK's cannabis market. Skunk has swept other, less potent, forms of cannabis off the market, and now accounts for 81% of cannabis available on our streets, compared to just 30% in 2002.

The proposed change in the law would mean:

  • more robust enforcement against cannabis supply and possession - those repeatedly caught with the drug will not just receive cannabis warnings
  • a new targeted approach to tackling cannabis farms and the organised criminals who run them
  • the introduction of additional aggravating sentencing factors for those caught supplying cannabis near further and higher educational establishments, mental health institutions and prisons
  • possible changes to legislation and powers used to curtail the sale and promotion of cannabis paraphernalia

Stronger enforcement of the law

The decision to reclassify cannabis to Class B means enforcement of the law will also get tougher.

The Home Secretary asked the Association of Chief Police Officers (new window) for their proposals for a strengthened approach to cannabis possession. They submitted proposed changes, which she and the Secretary of State for Justice Jack Straw have accepted, subject to a consultation planned by the Ministry of Justice (new window).

The proposed changes would mean that - once the drug is reclassified - those caught with cannabis could still get a cannabis warning on a first offence, but on a second offence they are likely face a fine of £80. If caught a third time they could be arrested.

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.

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

It is unlikely that adults caught in possession of cannabis will be arrested. Most offences of possession result in a warning and confiscation of the drug. But some instances may lead to arrest and possible caution or prosecution, including:

  • repeat offending
  • smoking in a public place
  • instances where public order is threatened
  • possession of cannabis near buildings or areas used by children

See also

Related documents

Other Home Office sites

Home Office websites