Regulating the trade

Under prohibition the trade in cannabis is completely uncontrolled and unregulated

As an illegal drug, cannabis is subject to no controls or regulation and the trade cannot be studied. The strong case for cannabis law reform is to regulate the trade in such a way as to be able to quantify what is sold as "cannabis" and to be able to and study the users and hence the effect of cannabis use with confidence.

Broadly, the aim is for a regulated regime not unlike that which applies to alcohol - and in many ways for much the same reasons, based on harm reduction.

Cannabis is a markedly different substance to alcohol however, and issues connected with its use will, therefore, be different.

Comparing prohibition with a legal regime


A regulated regime

No-one really knows what is being sold as cannabis on British streets. At one extreme there is low-grade hashish which is very uncertain in terms of purity and may be contaminated with a range of unknown substances. At the other is hi-grade herbal cannabis which is claimed by some to be very strong with dangerously high levels of THC.

A regulated product in terms of purity and weights and measures.

Cannabis could be sold in terms of type (i.e. strain) and potency (i.e. strength). Ultimately it would be the aim to state THC and CBD levels on packaging.

To ensure that cannabis farms are properly regulated
and that their product is pure, also to ensure workers involved in the business have the full protection of employment legislation.

Proper standards of health and safety in the manufacture of cannabis products, including hashish.

Ignorance and an underground market impossible to measure or study. All aspects of the trade quantifiable and known

Note on Grading:

Cannabis comes in many different types or "strains" of the plant. This is important because different strains have different ratios of active chemicals and therefore have very different effects on the user. This factor might be more important than how strong the cannabis is.

Strength is often claimed to be the most important issue particularly by the press and anti drug campaigners. When they talk of strength or potency, only the level of THC is usually considered.

Whatever the truth, it is important that both of these factors are known and that the buyer should be aware of them.

Sellers are unknown - the only qualification needed to be a dealer is unaccountability.

Prohibition specifically targets anyone willing to be accountable.

Cannabis is sold within communities from unregulated venues by people with no training or special knowledge of what they are selling. Although some (perhaps many) dealers are enthusiastic about the product they sell, few are really informed.

Much cannabis is supplied by organised crime, sometimes with links to people smuggling and other criminal activity up to and including terrorism. The profits to be made from illegal cannabis are huge and are kept high by the disruption of the laws of supply and demand created by prohibition.

Because of its illegality, the trade doesn't pay anything into society by way of taxes of course.

A licensed dealer would be accountable

People involved in the commercial supply would be licensed and would be expected to have a sound knowledge of the cannabis they're selling in terms of what it is (grade/strain/potency).

A minimum age for purchasing cannabis (18?) could be imposed and dealers legally obliged to not supply problem users. They would be required to run an orderly house.

Traders who break the terms of their licence would lose that licence and therefore not be allowed to trade. They may also face other penalties as may be deemed fit.

Commercial supplies would only be allowed from registered wholesalers who would obtain supplies only from licensed growers.

Home growing is illegal but it happens anyway, sometimes in dangerously confined spaces.

Small scale home growing would be allowed without licence in the same way as wine or beer may be brewed by enthusiasts. However, in the same way as home brewed wines or beers cannot be traded, home grow cannabis could not be traded but may be given away.

The minimum age for buying cannabis is £10 - or even less. The commercial supply of cannabis to minors should be an offence.
Blanket prohibition is aimed at all users and is difficult if not impossible to enforce with anything like an even hand. Enforcement is patchy at best and is something of a post-code lottery, with different police forces having widely differing policies. Laws would be seen as fair and in the interest of the consumer, they would thus be enforceable.
The law offers no protection to people who have problems with dealers. Disputes cannot be settled by recourse to the law and, indeed, the victim would be considered a criminal. People with mental health problems and children - the most vulnerable - are the most at risk. Normal sales of goods legislation would apply. Vulnerable groups could be identified and given specific protection.
  Selling cannabis to children to be a specific offence.

Giving cannabis to children would involve a duty of care, as with alcohol at present. Supplying children with cannabis to use unsupervised would be a dereliction of the duty of care and thus an offence.

Levels of use are high and impossible to measure properly. There is no evidence that prohibition or the severity of the law has much if any impact on the levels of use of illegal drugs. Use may go up, although it would be impossible to say for sure as we don't know the present situation. However, it would be easy to measure. Problematic use would be easier to identify and deal with and social norms would be allowed to develop.


In addition to all that

There would need to be a ban on all forms of commercial advertising - branding, event promotion etc. - other than at the point of sale. This principle should be applied to all drugs, including alcohol.

A factual public health campaign aimed at awareness of the potential hazards of cannabis use, particularly designed to reduce binge use. We would welcome additional measures aimed at preventing the use of cannabis by children, such as school based projects which aim to delay the age of first use.

Especially there should be a Campaign aimed at reducing the use of tobacco to consume cannabis and encouraging safer methods of consumption.

Laws should be farmed so as to prevent antisocial behaviour, being stoned is no excuse.

Effective laws aimed at preventing driving whilst intoxicated are needed anyway and at present this would mean roadside impairment tests as no chemical test exists to gauge impairment. We do not support the present chemical tests which test for past use only.

Health warning should be displayed on packaging and at point of sale both of cannabis and of paraphernalia used to consume it.

Indicatorsof success would be:

Removal of street dealing.
Reduction in crime associated with the illegal trade.
Accurate figures for levels of use.
Accurate figures for potency/purity/strains of cannabis consumed.
Accurate knowledge of where cannabis is sold and by whom.
Laws which have the respect of the target user group


Cannabis is firmly established in British culture and has been for many years. UKCIA is not asking for a new drug to be introduced, nor does it encourage the use of cannabis. Rather we call for effective laws to properly regulate the trade that already exists.

We do not accept the simplistic aims of the government; we do not see lowering the overall level of use to a minimum as the most desirable outcome, even if prohibition in fact did achieve this, which it doesn't. The overall number of users is less important than the profile of that use. As we know to societies cost with alcohol a small number of young, heavy binge users is a greater problem than a relatively large number of adult users who do so in moderation.