What Does the UK Think About Cannabis Legalization?

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The horrifying news out of the United Kingdom over the last week is easily the most prominent concern for its citizens.

In the wake of these brutal terrorist attacks, it almost feels pointless to discuss anything else that may affect England and its territories. But by solely focusing on this chaos and nothing else, we are sadly giving the perpetrators exactly what they want.

In an attempt to regain some semblance of normalcy in an abnormal and very unfortunate situation, Marijuana.com has decided to pay attention to this week’s upcoming general election, as the people from the UK choose their next leader.

This Thursday, the United Kingdom will be going to the polls. At present, the numbers suggest that current Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May will retain her post as the country’s leader.

The news of May’s impending win comes to the dismay of cannabis lovers, as the Prime Minister has been quite vocal about her opposition towards all things marijuana. The only bright light for pot reform in the Queen’s nation has been the campaign promise of cannabis legalization by the Liberal Democrats in May.

Marijuana.com sat down with Jason Reed, the spokesperson for the UK’s Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), to discuss his region’s perceived mindset around cannabis reform.

The UK general election is coming up next week and the Liberal Democrats have made legalizing cannabis a campaign promise. Although the Lib Dems are not likely to win, is their willingness to make this promise a sign that the general UK public wants legalization?

The Liberal Democrats have consistently pursued evidence-based drug policy. They’re the first UK party to seek an independent review of our drug laws by commissioning a report composed of an expert panel looking for recommendations for the UK cannabis market.

The report clearly called for the reform and regulation of cannabis in efforts to save police time and to collect revenue through a taxable system. It’s heartening to see a party put this issue so far up their manifesto and use it as a flagship issue.

The traditional big two parties of Labour and the Conservatives have had a less than affable relationship with cannabis, with conservative leaders consistently pandering to the traditional negative stereotypes and “gateway” theories, and Labour having a reclassification nightmare whereby it sacked its leading scientific adviser and placed cannabis in a harm scale that was way outside its scientific validity. The Lib Dems leading on the issue, which is gaining public support, is hopefully a sign that drug law reform, in general, will creep up the priority list of the main parties.

Is the average citizen in the UK aware that marijuana is far less dangerous than reported during the “reefer madness” days?

The UK is leading from behind on this issue. The country has had decades of negative press or even apathetic coverage, but with Canada and some US states reforming, the UK will probably be influenced to some degree as reforms take hold.

Our media coverage has been tragically laughable over the last few years with purported increased harms and “super strength skunk” acting as a reason to maintain cannabis’ ban. The more extreme examples of this press coverage have actually won awards from leading neuroscientists for being so devoid of truth in their reporting.

We still see a lot of reefer madness style journalism, but we’re also now getting to see more balance. The UK prides itself on its academia, and facts and evidence are beginning to win the public relations battle.

Is it mostly the younger generations that want legalized cannabis or does the older crowd also see it as beneficial?

In the UK, it really does all come down to how information is presented to the public.

If you pose the question: should we legalize cannabis? The answer may well be a resounding no. However, if you ask: should we reform and regulate cannabis, tax it, place age restrictions and quality control on it? The answer seems to be an increasingly affable yes.

I think this is where the reform message has gotten better. We’re avoiding polarizing messages and allowing for a fuller explanation of what reform really means.

A reliable poll from a few years ago indicated that the general public has to understand the question before it can conceive of its answer. Over half of the population supported cannabis legalization and only 1 in 7 people supported heavier criminal penalties.

Perhaps more notable was the anonymous polling of UK MPs when asked about drug policy in general. Given the gift of anonymity, over 75% said that they didn’t feel our drug laws worked.

Has the global shift towards marijuana reform had some influence on the public’s view towards cannabis?

Canada’s reforms are certainly more akin to what the UK would be able to grasp. The messaging from Canada on child protection and a more “federal” style regulation is certainly how the UK will shape up.

Our European neighbours could provide inspiration as well. The Spanish Cannabis Social Club (CSC) model has its roots in the UK scene with our own UKCSC in operation. This model could well provide a discreet route to cannabis reform, one that the UK public could cope with. Plus, the social club model doesn’t need any real legal amendment, so it could feasibly operate with very little opposition.

Do you think the UK will see legalized cannabis in the next decade?

It’s looking increasingly likely that the UK will reform to some degree or another.

We have a number of factors at work now, a good UK NGO sector that has a very established network and are media astute, we have politicians that are more willing to work on the issue and take the lead, and we have a media that’s become ever more sympathetic to the issues around health and criminalisation, as opposed to debating the pros and cons of cannabis as a substance.

We’ll undoubtedly be influenced by the global picture too. It may be the case we won’t address medical marijuana, despite tremendous efforts by UK patient groups such as the UPA to further this specific issue, it may work out that the UK will go for an “all or nothing” approach and go straight to full cannabis reform.

What about law enforcement? From your perspective working for LEAP, does law enforcement also see the benefits of not having to arrest and charge people with possession?

The law enforcement perspective could be the issue that wins the debate. We have seen an increased awareness amongst UK police constabularies and authorizes on drug law reform.

In Durham, Chief Constable Mike Barton and Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Ron Hogg are fully on record as wishing to pursue a more evidence-based drug policy. They deprioritized cannabis and they’ve even spoken with the local cannabis social clubs in efforts to make a lasting solution.

We also have North Wales PCC Arfon Jones who is firmly on the side of progressive policies and is looking to forward the dialogue.

Our work in LEAP UK is to make sure that the police, policymakers, and the public as a whole, understand the current harms around criminalisation, how this can impact anyone, and how reform is not to be feared but embraced.

We make sure that this is a conversation and not a debate. We must avoid shouting matches of who’s right and wrong and focus on the real positive steps that are being taken.

We have been increasingly more aware just how many serving and retired personnel are ready to advocate reform. Our feeling is we’ve reached the tipping point and that the police may well be the voices to cement the reforms that we desperately need.


As the government and citizens of the United Kingdom concentrate on creating a safer environment for all who live there, cannabis reform will likely be a backseat discussion for a while.

Having said that, this discussion is clearly not going away with the growing support and ongoing acceptance of cannabis from politicians, police, and the general public across the United Kingdom.

About Author

Jonathan Hiltz has been a journalist, a TV producer and marijuana advocate for over sixteen years. He has a wife, two young children and lives in the Toronto area.

3 Comments

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  2. under tories law we got no chance of legalised cannabis i smoke weed to help with my mental health and sleep problems i even sent a letter to number 10 saying how the tablets im on is making me worse and the side effects are doing my head in when i smoke weed i feel relaxed my voices stop and i can sleep without waking up to bad side effects and groggyness, number 10 dismissed my letter by saying kids will smoke weed if it was legalised but with strict laws this wouldnt be a problem and also ive noticed that some strains of weed i smoke dont always help with it being illegal we can only get what our dealers have i think its wrong and cant wait for the day its legal so i can get the right strain of weed to help me for once

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