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Policing marijuana—the UK experience

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Countries all over the world take different approaches to the policing of marijuana possession and consumption. In many places it is widely assumed that the drug is legal, whereas in fact it is technically illegal, but tolerated in specific circumstances, such as a decision not to prosecute those who possess small amounts for personal use. In the United Kingdom, marijuana is a “Class B” drug: it’s illegal.


The maximum penalty for supplying or producing marijuana is 14 years imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine; the maximum penalty for possession is five years imprisonment. However, imprisonment for possession of marijuana (as distinct from supplying) is very rare.


In practice an “escalation penalty” system is in operation. When someone is caught for the first time with a small amount of cannabis for personal use the police have the option of using a “cannabis warning”: a spoken warning given by a police officer, either on the street or at the police station.


On a subsequent occasion someone possessing cannabis may be issued with a Penalty Notice for Disorder (PND). PNDs are tickets that police officers can issue at the scene of an incident or in custody—they carry an on-the-spot fine of £80. Neither a PND nor a cannabis warning results in a criminal record.


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