The United Kingdom is far from the most progressive when it comes to cannabis legalization. In fact, in the western world, the UK is considered to have some of the least groundbreaking drug laws in general. Whilst the US, Canada and parts of Europe have made some real litigious changes, the UK have sat idly back. But, that’s not to say that all hope is lost. In fact, over the last few years, some countries within the United Kingdom have shown hints of intention. Perhaps the UK isn’t as stagnant as we once thought.
But which country in the UK is pushing for change the most? And which country is holding the whole group back? Well, let’s take a look at how such laws even work in the United Kingdom and how far off they really are from legalizing cannabis. n the meantime, stay current on everything important happening in the industry by subscribing to the THC Weekly Newsletter. Also, it’ll get you premium access to deals on cannabis flowers, vapes, edibles, and much more! We’ve also got standout offers on cannabinoids, like HHC-O, Delta 8, Delta 9 THC, Delta-10 THC, THCO, THCV, THCP & HHC, which won’t kill your bank account. Head over to our “Best-of” lists to get these deals, and remember to enjoy responsibly!
The United Kingdom
The United Kingdom – sometimes known as Britain – is an island nation made up of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Whilst the UK is referred to as a nation, it is best described as a political union between 4 semi-independent countries. There are many people who see this alliance as a positive unity, and others who demand the United Kingdom be disbanded. Scotland came very close to securing independence in 2014, with the NO’s winning only 55% of the vote. On the other hand, the Republic of Ireland became independent in the 1940s, leaving Northern Ireland to stay a part of the UK. Evan Evans writes:
“Although the UK is a fully independent sovereign state, the 4 nations that make it up are also countries in their own right and have a certain extent of autonomy… Although all 4 countries are bound to the Crown and united, each country has its own identity and are often considered separate in the minds of locals. There are even regional languages like Welsh and Gaelic, though English is spoken throughout.”
The issue with the United Kingdom has always been due to its history. It was once known as the Kingdom of England, which highlights where the source of power was in this so-called equal alliance of four nations. Although each nation now has the ability to make its own laws and has a certain level of independence, many people would argue that the power is still mainly in the hands of the English parliament and monarchy. This has led to many movements within Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to become independent.
How Laws are Made
So, how are laws made in the United Kingdom? Is it actually possible for cannabis laws to be different in each nation? Could Scotland legalize cannabis without England doing so too? These are all valid questions. Ultimately, each member of the United Kingdom can propose their own set of laws and regulations. They also have their own governmental systems. Scotland is run by the Scottish National Party, England by the Conservatives, Wales by Labour and Northern Ireland… it’s a little trickier. They use a system similar to proportional representation. Practical Law writes:
“The United Kingdom has four legal systems, each of which derives from a particular geographical area for a variety of historical reasons: English law, Scots law, Northern Ireland law, and, since 2007, purely Welsh law”
Therefore, each nation in the UK has the power to create and propose their own laws. The United Kingdom has realised that the only way it can survive is to promote devolution, and de-centralised power. However, cannabis legalization specifically is a tricky one. Whilst nations within the United Kingdom have the ability to create and deal with laws that are of relevance to them, legalizing cannabis seems like a bigger issue. Therefore, it’s hard to imagine that one nation within the UK would suddenly legalize cannabis. And if they did, would the other UK nations support it or would they not? Nonetheless, there has been some real movements from each nation in support of cannabis legalization and, each time this happens, pressure is put on the UK as a whole to make real litigious change. But who’s pushing the hardest?
England is home to around 84% of the UK’s population, which highlights the level of power the nation has. Plus, the monarchy and houses of parliament are all based in London – the capital city of England. When it comes to the UK alliance, England has a great deal of power. Quora writes:
“England dominates the United Kingdom in most ways. It has by far the largest economy and is the most developed. It has by far the largest population. It is home to the seat of the UK government and a large majority of the parliament’s elected constituencies.”
Whilst all nations have devolved rights, England – some would say – has an unspoken dominance. Therefore, if England decided to legalize cannabis, it is likely that the other nations may follow suit. However, on the other hand, when England decided to leave the European Union, it wasn’t a popular decision in other UK nations. These results highlight the indecision in the ranks of the UK:
“The decision by the electorate was to “Leave the European Union”, voters for which secured a majority of 1,269,501 votes (3.78%) over those who had voted in favour of “Remain a member of the European Union”, with England and Wales voting to “Leave” while Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to “Remain”
However, overall, a push towards cannabis legalization from England would have a huge effect on the rest of the UK; especially with the amount of population.
In 2018, England and the rest of the UK legalized medical cannabis. This was a huge moment for the nation, who have on the whole been trudging behind other countries when it comes to progressive drug laws. In fact, in 2021 the UN revealed that the UK was dominating the medical cannabis industry. Left Foot Forward writes:
“A new report from the UN’s International Narcotics Control Board has revealed the UK is the world’s largest producer of legal cannabis for medical and scientific uses.”
Plus, possession of personal amounts of cannabis in England are now dealt with as petty crimes by the majority of police in England. This means that prosecutions from small amounts are becoming uncommon.
However, there are very few patients who are able to get their hands on cannabis prescriptions. Prescriptions are not given for free on the NHS, and the private doctors that do provide it cost a great deal. Some can cost up to £50,000 a year. Plus, whilst CBD and medical cannabis may have been given the green light, England have no made real effort to legalize recreational THC. The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has openly said he has no intention of legalizing the drug.
Scotland is the second most populated country in the UK, with around 8% of the population. Scotland have essentially the same laws as England when it comes to cannabis, as do the rest of the nations within the UK. However, there are some slight hints at progression by Scotland. Politics writes:
“the country has an agreement with Police Scotland whereby people caught in possession of a small amount of drugs will not be arrested, but instead given the opportunity to divert away from the criminal justice system”
Overall, Scotland has often been considered to be a liberal branch of the United Kingdom. However, Nicola Sturgeon – the current leader of Scotland – is openly not a big fan of cannabis. She recently rejected a young boy’s plea for cannabis oil to aid his seizures. Plus, Scotland has a nation has not made much progress in cannabis prescriptions since the UK legalized it in 2018. In fact, they have done worse than England.
Wales is the third biggest nation in the UK, with a small 5% of the UK’s population. Wales were a big pusher for medical cannabis legalization in 2017, and put huge pressure on the UK government to implement it. This occured when, in 20217, a Welsh MP spoke in parliament, saying:
“The tide of world opinion is moving in a direction of legalising cannabis. There are 29 states in America – the majority of them – that have already legalised medical cannabis without any problems arising”
His words rang true with many members of parliament and UK citizens.
Northern Ireland is the smallest nation in the United Kingdom, with only 3% of the population. Whilst they may seem small, they have put some pressure on the rest of the UK to legalize cannabis. In 2021, the Belfast Lord Mayor spoke in favour of cannabis legalization. She said:
“I think it (cannabis) should be legalised…I don’t think criminalising that deals with the issues. We’re looking at the legalities around it. It’s very open, the drug dealing is now on the streets.”
She, like many others, have acknowledged that criminalizing and banning cannabis only creates more issues, instead of fixing them.
The United Kingdom is a small nation when compared to others round the world, however, due to their empirical history and large economy they do have power around the world. Unfortunately, the UK has not laid its flag in the sand when it comes to cannabis legalization. Instead, they have sat idly back. Nonetheless, there have been small hints of progress. But where have these mainly come from within the United Kingdom?
Well, it seems that ultimately England has the majority of power – especially with 84% of the UK’s population – and therefore it has inevitably come from there. Nonetheless, it’s the pressure that the smaller UK nations put on England that also assists. If the UK is ever to fully legalize cannabis, it will need to be a joint effort from all UK nations. Unity is key.
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