Cannabis in the UK

Whilst giant leaps in freedom and basic human rights are being made in places Like Uruguay, Washington, and Colorado, UK attitudes towards cannabis seem to still be dragging their knuckles through the proverbial stone age.

Under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, cannabis is currently an illegal ‘Class B’ substance and carries sentences of up to 5 years in prison for possession, and up to 14 years for distribution.


Substance Class
Amphetamines including dexamphetamine (Speed) B
Cannabis B
Synthetic Cannabinoids (Spice/K2) B
Codeine (Prescription Painkiller) B
Methedrone (MCAT/Meow Meow) B
Methylone (bk-MDMA) B
NRG-1, NRG-3, Naphyrone (NRG or Energy) B

The following are statistics of reported drug poisoning deaths from Class B Drugs, as well as some more familiar prescription drugs

Drug Poisoning Deaths 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
All amphetamines 99 76 56 62 97
Cannabis 0 0 0 0 0
Methadone 378 408 355 486 414
Other opiate (including Codeine and Dihydrocodeine) 381 418 418 418 348
MDMA/Ecstasy 44 27 8 13 31
PMA / PMMA 0 0 0 1 20
Novel psychoactive substances 25 26 22 29 52
Cathinones 0 0 6 6 18
All benzodiazepines 230 261 307 293 284
Diazepam 133 160 186 179 207
All antidepressants 383 406 381 393 468
Tricyclic antidepressants (BNF 4.3.1) 229 219 194 200 233
Selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (BNF 4.3.3) 116 113 136 127 158
Other antidepressants (BNF 4.3.2 and 4.3.4) 50 83 74 84 104
Paracetamol4 260 255 199 207 182
Tramadol 83 87 132 154 175
Other opiate (including Codeine and Dihydrocodeine) 381 418 418 418 348
Helium 12 21 33 42 58
  2804 2978 2925 3112 3197

Nobody has ever died as a result of smoking cannabis.  It is not a toxic substance. Something isn’t quite right here…..

What are the true dangers of cannabis and prohibition?

To tell you the truth, the true dangers of cannabis are mostly social.  But before we get in to that, let’s address two common myths often stated as the prime focus for cannabis prohibition.  Psychosis/Schizophrenia and “super strength” weed.

There is absolutely no concrete evidence to support the fact that cannabis causes mental health problems. None.  It is possible however, that cannabis abuse hastens the onset of mental illness in those predisposed to it in much the same way that alcohol does with alcohol induced psychosis but the evidence is not conclusive.  From Wikipedia

Alcohol is a common cause of psychotic disorders or episodes, which may occur through acute intoxication, chronic alcoholism, withdrawal, exacerbation of existing disorders, or acute idiosyncratic reactions.[4] Research has shown that alcohol abuse causes an 8-fold increased risk of psychotic disorders in men and a 3 fold increased risk of psychotic disorders in women.[5][6] While the vast majority of cases are acute and resolve fairly quickly upon treatment and/or abstinence, they can occasionally become chronic and persistent.[4] Alcoholic psychosis is sometimes misdiagnosed as another mental illness such as schizophrenia.[7]

They like to keep that one quiet don’t they?

Furthermore, of all the studies done, none rule out environmental factors. For instance, you are 6 times more likely to develop mental healths problems if you live in a big city, and the bigger the city, the bigger the risk.  None attempt to address any link between personality types, cannabis, and mental illness. Could it be that those who are more likely to have mental health issues are more likely to search for a chemical escape?  The “evidence” is too circumstantial, and too many factors are allowed to weigh in to the conclusion without being acknowledged.  The research is heavily flawed. One might think there was a specific agenda behind such poor research.

Professor David Nutt had this to say

The role of cannabis in causation of schizophrenia is still controversial – the ACMD in their 3rd cannabis review estimated that to stop one case of schizophrenia one would have to stop 5000 young men or 7000 young women from ever smoking cannabis. Some studies are now suggesting cannabis may help patients with schizophrenia.

Super strength weed:

Weed of different strengths has always been available. Always.  Back in the day, Panama Red, Columbia Gold, or Thai Stick was always better (stronger) than any bag of Mexican crap you could pick up.  These days, there is just more variety and stronger weed is easy to get hold of than it was years ago.  THC profiles are not pushing unheard-of  levels.  You had your good stuff that was hard to get hold of and you had your bad, much like you do today.  Today’s Cheese strain for instance, available everywhere, not particularly strong.

That said, so what if you smoke the stronger stuff?  Its like comparing beer with wine.  Just because you drink two pints of beer, does not mean you’re going to drink two pints of wine.  That’s ridiculous. You smoke enough until you’re high and then you stop.  It makes no difference what you are smoking.

david cameron quotes

Incredibly inaccurate that Mr Cameron.  Cannabis is not toxic (poisonous), nor damaging,  nor does it lead to mental health problems. In fact, caffeine is much more toxic than cannabis.

The true dangers of cannabis lie with prohibition itself.  The fact is, it is just plain irresponsible for a modern political system to continue to outlaw cannabis, and I’ll tell you why…

Prohibition is irresponsible

People are going to smoke cannabis no matter what its legal status is, this is a fact evident by the increase in users year on year.  It is quite clearly a law that the majority of people now see as unjust, and if a police force enforces an unjust law, respect for the law goes out of the window.

Prohibition feeds average people in to the criminal justice system, and as more people use cannabis than ever before, so, are we seeing record numbers of people fed in to this system.  A criminal record is for life, Young people who are being fed in to the criminal justice system over an unjust law are having their futures guided by this policy.  Job opportunities are being lost, so are lives, futures, dreams, ambitions, and trust towards authority.

Prohibition can efficiently be seen as a lack of regulation.  Lack of regulation means many things.  It means there is no quality control over the products being sold.  Many of which contain harmful chemicals not flushed from the plant by inexperienced growers.  Much cannabis comes with added glass, as reported here and is a serious health risk. Then there is the gateway drug theory.

Gateway Drug

Cannabis is not a gateway drug. I’ve never heard such nonsense in my entire life. 2,000,000 people in the UK smoke cannabis. 1 in 4 of them, went on to try cocaine, and 1 in 90 of them used it regularly.  The fact is, that whilst cannabis use is on the incline in the UK, class A drug use is on the decline.  If cannabis in itself was a true gateway drug, class A drug use would correlate would it not?  The only ‘gateway’ part about cannabis is its prohibition.  The irresponsible stance that the UK has taken in not regulating cannabis has meant that they are forcing many people who want to smoke cannabis to buy it off a dealer who sells other much more dangerous and truly toxic drugs. (I’m not talking about paracetamol or SSRI’s either).

This puts good money in to bad pockets at an ever increasing rate. It is well known that it is the dealers who push harder drugs on to their customers. A dealer out of cannabis looking to make money of his other wares is going to suggest alternatives to his customers, that’s just common sense. I very much doubt that someone flogging smack for a living would really care about the age of the person wanting to by their goods either.  This is another reason that the criminalization of cannabis is just plain irresponsible. It is the prohibition of cannabis itself that is the gateway.

Medicinal Uses

Cannabis as a medicine has been around in Britain for 100’s if not 1000’s of years. The scale of cultivation was enormous and cannabis is even documented in the surviving text of an early Anglo-Saxon herbal.  Queen Victoria used to get a hemp prescription to alleviate period pain.  It was available in the UK on prescription as late as 1971 (although banned for recreational use since 1928) , yet for some reason the UK’s top politicians will ignore the advice from some of their top scientists and tell you that cannabis has no medicinal value whatsoever.

Interesting then, that numerous studies have shown cannabis could be an effective treatment for the following:

  • Cancer
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Chronic Pain
  • Dementia
  • epilepsy
  • Tourette’s
  • Nausea/Vomiting
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Glaucoma
  • Anorexia

There are many, many others. In fact, it has been said that cannabis offers the most amount of treatments per medicine than anything currently on the market.

Still, we’re told cannabis has no medicinal use and as such medical research in to cannabis is being stifled by the law.



Meet Sativex, currently available for prescription in 11 countries including Spain, UK, Italy, Germany, and Canada.  It has also been approved for use in a further 13 countries.

Sativex is described as a ‘cannabinoid based’ medicine.  In actual fact, what it is, is a cannabis tincture. GWPharma in Kent, produce tonnes of indica/sativa hybrid cannabis plants and process the bud using ethanol which is then evaporated leaving behind concentrated cannabis oil.  This oil contains all of the constituent cannabinoids from the cannabis flower without any of the green plant matter. It is then poured in to a pretty little bottle and packaged in to some official medical looking packaging and prescribed for various conditions.  Interestingly, this medication is far more potent than cannabis bud as it is not bulked out by plant matter.

If cannabis has no medical value whatsoever, how do explain this, Mr Cameron?  Your policy on cannabis seems pretty irresponsible from a medical point of view as well.

Environmental uses for cannabis

The hemp plant also has some pretty solid environmental uses too. It can be used to produce:

  • Fibre for rope
  • Clothing
  • Paper
  • Plastic
  • Building materials
  • Cellulose
  • Fuel
  • Food


On an annual basis, 1 acre of hemp will produce as much fiber as 2 to 3 acres of cotton. Hemp fiber is stronger and softer than cotton, lasts twice as long as cotton, and will not mildew.

Cotton grows only in moderate climates and requires more water than hemp; but hemp is frost tolerant, requires only moderate amounts of water, and grows in all 50 states. Cotton requires large quantities of pesticides and herbicides–50% of the world’s pesticides/herbicides are used in the production of cotton. Hemp requires no pesticides, no herbicides, and only moderate amounts of fertilizer.

On an annual basis, 1 acre of hemp will produce as much paper as 2 to 4 acres of trees. From tissue paper to cardboard, all types of paper products can be produced from hemp.

The quality of hemp paper is superior to tree-based paper. Hemp paper will last hundreds of years without degrading, can be recycled many more times than tree-based paper, and requires less toxic chemicals in the manufacturing process than does paper made from trees.

Hemp can be used to produce fiberboard that is stronger and lighter than wood. Substituting hemp fiberboard for timber would further reduce the need to cut down our forests.

Hemp can be used to produce strong, durable and environmentally-friendly plastic substitutes. Thousands of products made from petroleum-based plastics can be produced from hemp-based composites.

It takes years for trees to grow until they can be harvested for paper or wood, but hemp is ready for harvesting only 120 days after it is planted. Hemp can grow on most land suitable for farming, while forests and tree farms require large tracts of land available in few locations. Harvesting hemp rather than trees would also eliminate erosion due to logging, thereby reducing topsoil loss and water pollution caused by soil runoff.

Hemp seeds contain a protein that is more nutritious and more economical to produce than soybean protein. Hemp seeds are not intoxicating. Hemp seed protein can be used to produce virtually any product made from soybean: tofu, veggie burgers, butter, cheese, salad oils, ice cream, milk, etc. Hemp seed can also be ground into a nutritious flour that can be used to produce baked goods such as pasta, cookies, and breads.

Hemp seed oil can be used to produce non-toxic diesel fuel, paint, varnish, detergent, ink and lubricating oil. Because hemp seeds account for up to half the weight of a mature hemp plant, hemp seed is a viable source for these products.

Cannabis prohibition seems pretty irresponsible from an environmental perspective to me, too.

Economics of cannabis prohibition

I’m not going to skirt round the issue.  The UK economy is in the toilet.

The Tory Government are currently spending an estimated £2bn trying (and failing I might add) to police cannabis.  For every 1 cannabis ‘farm’ that gets busted, 4 spring up in its place.  This is probably a direct result of growers getting caught in the first place. No matter what type of business you’re in, it makes sense to protect your investments.  The more operations you have, the less likely you will be to lose them all.

£2,000,000,000 is an awful lot of money that could be better spent. But the plot thickens.  Where cannabis to be legalised, some economists predict that it would generate tax payments alone of over £1.25bn. That’s an extra £3.25bn in the public purse, without the need to ruin lives, and police resources can be used on issues that really matter.

The GDP of the UK is pretty poor, we are no longer a producing nation.  The difference a small change in the law could make to our economy is enormous. Not only would have a massive small business boom for those wanting to trade cannabis, but we would have a fantastic increase in tourism, and sale on all hemp products.

Seems then, that cannabis prohibition is irresponsible for an economic point of view as well.

So just why is cannabis illegal in the UK?

Quite simple really. Money.

In 1928 cannabis became illegal in much of the world.  At a meeting of the League of Nations, as a sort of ‘afterthought’ an Egyptian businessman and timber merchant (supported by Turkey) put forward a proposition to make a new drug from Mexico illegal, and this drug was known as “Marihuana”.  At this time, cannabis was not known as Marijuana and was usually referred to as cannabis or hemp. Not realising the impact this little addition would make, it was added to the list of banned substances.  Cannabis was already banned in Egypt as its use was in contravention to interpretations in Islamic law.

Many timber merchants were struggling with the direct competition that hemp gave them in terms of paper production and they’d been putting politicians under pressure for quite some time to outlaw hemp for their own financial gain.

The issue was never debated in parliament, there was no domestic reason to ban hemp, no lobbying or protest had taken place.  Recreational hemp use was very much acceptable in Britain up until this point. It was still possible to grow industrial hemp for fibre and whatnot but that required a license, and getting one, easier said than done.  The timber industry had succeeded in doing away with their major competitor, the hemp plant.

In 1971, as I mentioned before, cannabis was available on prescription for certain ailments.  Unfortunately two GP’s prescribed cannabis for non-medicinal purposes and this led to complete outlawing of medicinal cannabis. This seems like a mighty overreaction, to completely outlaw a medicine so effective and cheap as cannabis. No doubt the exchange of a big brown envelope was involved. An industry fell to the ground overnight, and big pharma made a lot of money pushing their non-natural alternatives. 

To this day we are under the cosh of timber and big pharma companies, at the expense of our youth, economy, health, and planet.

It’s about time we get things sorted and our government stop being so damned irresponsible. We all smoke weed anyway.


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