. Wootton Report

Home Office - Wootton Report


67. The evidence before us shows that:

An increasing number of people, mainly young, in all classes of society are experimenting with this drug, and substantial numbers use it regularly for social pleasure.

There is no evidence that this activity is causing violent crime or aggression, anti-social behaviour, or is producing in otherwise normal people conditions of dependence or psychosis, requiring medical treatment.

The experience of many other countries is that once it is established cannabis-smoking tends to spread. In some parts of Western society where interest in mood-altering drugs is growing, there are indications that it may become a functional equivalent of alcohol.

In spite of the threat of severe penalties and considerable effort at enforcement the use of cannabis in the United Kingdom does not appear to be diminishing. There is a body of opinion that criticises the present legislative treatment of cannabis on the grounds that it exaggerates the dangers of the drug, and needlessly interferes with civil liberty.

68. The controversy that has arisen in the United Kingdom about the proper evaluation of cannabis in the list of psycho-active drugs. Should be resolved as quickly as possible, so that both the law and its enforcement as well as programmes of health education. may be relevant to what is known about the dangers of cannabis-smoking in this country. and may receive full public support. What are those dangers ?

69. There are still a number of imponderables. The substance most commonly used in the United Kingdom is the concentrated form of resin, more potent than the leaf products used widely in America and in Asia. The active principles of this substance have not yet been fully identified; the immediate effects of the burning process are not yet understood; and the long-term physical and mental effects, if any, of chronic use have not been scientifically tested. There is at present no routine method of detecting the drug in body fluids in the user.

70. Notwithstanding the limits of present knowledge, it is clear that cannabis is a potent drug, having as wide a capacity as alcohol to alter mood, judgement and functional ability. In that sense, we agree with the conclusion (1) recently published in the U.S.A. by the Council on Mental Health, the Committee on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence of the National Research Council, and the National Academy of Science that cannabis is a "dangerous" drug. But we think it is also clear that, in terms of physical harmfulness, cannabis is very much less dangerous than the opiates, amphetamines and barbiturates, and also less dangerous than alcohol. The implications of its mental effects are much less clear. Psychosis or psychological dependence, it is true, do not seem to be frequent consequences of cannabis-smoking. But the subjectivity of the mental effects of cannabis makes it particularly difficult to measure the total effect of cannabis experience on any individual, or to assess what changes even a moderate and seemingly responsible habit might bring in the smoker’s relationships with family and friends, study or work. We think that too little is known about the patterns of use to predict that in Western society it will produce social influences similar to those of alcohol. It was significant that even those of our witnesses who saw least danger in the drug were concerned to discourage juveniles from using it.

71. We conclude, therefore that in the interests of public health it is necessary to maintain restrictions on the availability and use of this drug. For the purpose of enforcing these restrictions there is no alternative to the criminal law and its penalties. As we have already stressed however (paragraph 15) it is difficult to draw a hard and fast line between actions that are purely self-regarding and those that involve wider social consequences. It is particularly difficult to do so when the matter at issue is the use of a drug with wide appeal as a relaxant, and the possibly deleterious effects of which - at least in the United Kingdom - are still unknown. Smoking cannabis may be an act of simple enjoyment, a demonstration of self neglect or an indication of social irresponsibility. Distinctions such as these cannot be written into the law, but can and should be recognised by the courts in their consideration of cannabis offences and offenders. The measures that we now suggest are intended to meet the needs of the immediate situation as we see it. They should be kept under review in the light of experience and research.


72. Some of our witnesses argued that possession of cannabis should be legalised at once. Most of us felt that the uncertainties just mentioned ruled this out in the near future: legalisation could not be reversed if the cost of "accepting" cannabis were later found to be higher than expected; and even if cannabis were ultimately found to be no more, or even less, harmful than alcohol, there would still be room for debate whether it would be in the interests of public health to extend the range of socially acceptable drugs. Those of us who did not wish to rule out the possibility of eventual legalisation agreed that this could not be introduced before an exhaustive study of the problems of transition and of necessary safeguards had been made. Safeguards against adulteration would have to be investigated and standards of inspection would have to be agreed; sources of supply would have to be considered; importation from countries where the supply was still illegal would present a particularly difficult problem; it might be necessary to devise a licensing system for manufacturing synthetics; much thought would have to be given to the mode of distribution; an attempt would have to be made to define permitted limits of intoxication and methods of detection; and special measures to protect minors would have to be incorporated into any such new law. It was clear therefore to all of us that the legalisation of cannabis would involve difficult and complex problems most of which have not been given much thought even by those who favour legalisation. Nevertheless we do not entirely discount the possibility that properly organised research may one day produce information which could justify further consideration of the practical problems of legalisation.


73. It will be clear from this Report that there is still a great deal that we do not know about cannabis. Precise description of the chemical structure and behavioural effects of its active constituents has not yet proceeded far. Chemical research on the synthesis of the active principles of cannabis and some of their derivatives has only recently begun to yield results. Accurate scientific knowledge is lacking of the personality of those who habitually use cannabis, of the significance of the circumstances in which it is used, and of the psychological, physiological and social consequences of its long-term use. No detailed information is available about the extent of cannabis use by immigrants and the effects of this on United Kingdom social conditions. No data exist on which to form reliable estimates of prevalence or to make meaningful projections of the possible growth of cannabis-taking, still less to gauge the social consequences of any such growth. The social consequences of the advent of synthetics may be important, but little scientific information has so far been assembled to guide us. Further study of all these things will be difficult and time-consuming. In a matter as complex and continuously changing as that of cannabis use in our society it is not reasonable to suppose that research alone will provide sure answers to all the problems. We were glad therefore to learn of the setting up, by the Medical Research Council, of three working parties specially to study problems of drug dependence, and of the formation of the new Institute for the Study of Drug Dependence. We have no doubt that these developments will lead to a much needed enlargement of inquiry into the cannabis problem and we most strongly urge that every encouragement, both academic and financial, be given to suitable projects.

74. It is not within our competence to make detailed recommendations as to the kind of investigation that should be undertaken: but we think it useful to indicate the general areas in which research might be most immediately helpful. Information is needed about the pharmacological effects of natural cannabis in its different forms, both on man and on experimental animals. The effects of synthetic derivatives should be studied as a matter of urgency. There is a pressing need for chemical tests, both qualitative and quantitative, to detect the presence of cannabis and its metabolites in the body fluids of users. Clinical reports of ill-effects, both immediate and long-term, following cannabis use are still haphazard and ill-documented. There is a need methodically to investigate possible cases of cannabis psychosis and, in particular, to study the concomitant effect of other drugs and of the abuse of alcohol in these cases. The possible therapeutic use of cannabis and its synthetic derivatives also deserves further investigation. There is also an immediate need for sociological studies to establish the prevalence of usage, and to define more closely the different social groups, and the personality patterns, of consumers of cannabis as well as the effects of the drug-use upon their social efficiency. More information is urgently needed on the incidence of cannabis-taking by adolescents and the extent to which this is made up of the transient use of the drug at parties and week-ends and of sustained regular use. It would be helpful to see if there are differentiating characteristics between users who take only cannabis, users who take other drugs besides cannabis, and people who used to take cannabis but have now given up all drug-use.

75. The present legal position is unhelpful to research. Cannabis may be obtained for research if the Home Office gives authority, but, as the law stands, any research requiring it to be smoked by human beings is illegal except on Crown premises. There is considerable uncertainty as to whether hospital or university premises are exempt. These legal uncertainties have made it virtually impossible to undertake this kind of research. However, merely to remove the restriction on premises would be insufficient to allow the relevant research to be carried out. As social factors are so important in the use of cannabis qualified workers should be free to study these phenomena by observation and laboratory and social experiments without the risk of prosecution.


The need for changes in the law relating to cannabis(2)

76. The maximum penalties for any offence relating to cannabis are, on summary conviction, a fine not exceeding œ250 or imprisonment for not more than 12 months or both. And, on conviction on indictment, a fine not exceeding œ1,000 or imprisonment for not more than 10 years or both. These penalties are common to all drugs prohibited or controlled under the Dangerous Drugs Act1965, including heroin. Originally introduced in the Dangerous Drugs Act of 1920 (to deal with traffic in opiates) and increased by the Dangerous Drugs and Poisons (Amendment) Act 1923, they were applied to offences relating to Indian hemp by the Dangerous Drugs Act 1925 and have since remained virtually unchanged.

77. Article 36 of the Single Convention obliges Parties to penalise intentional offences of possession (and trafficking) but not of use. The selection of penalties is left for domestic law to determine. The Dangerous Drugs Act 1965 imposes the same penalties for unlawful possession as for unlawful supply. A high maximum penalty for possession has been justified in the past by the argument that it must allow for due punishment of the trafficker, who is more likely to be found in possession than in the act of supply.

78. While maximum penalties for dangerous drugs offences have stood unaltered, the general law on the treatment of offenders has been changed considerably. More alternatives to custodial treatment have been developed, and greater flexibility introduced into sentencing. Scientific studies have increased understanding of the origins of anti-social behaviour and of the relative effectiveness of deterrent and other approaches. In common with offenders against other laws the drugs offender has no doubt benefited by these developments. At the same time it seems to us that the penalties for cannabis offences have gone unreviewed for too long. Now that experience here (and overseas) has shown misuse of drugs to be a complex and rapidly changing social problem, it seems to us essential that the law should progressively be recast to give greater flexibility of control over individual drugs, and of adjustment of the relevant penalties in accordance with the dangers presented by a specific drug or form of drug-taking.

79. The tables (included in this section, drugtext) give analvses of:

A. penalties inflicted for cannabis offences under the Dangerous Drugs Act 1965 in the years 1964-1966 and for offences under the Drugs (Prevention of Misuse)Act 1964 in the years 1965 and 1966;

B. penaltics inflicted in 1967 for cannabis offences, other Dangerous Drugs Act offences, and offences under the Drugs (Prevention of Misuse) Act;

C. cannabis prosecutions and disposals in 1967 related to age groups and weights of the drug.

80. These tables show some notable features about the cases dealt with by courts in 1967. Over two-thirds of all cannabis offenders (and nearly all found guilty of possessing more than I Kg ) did not have a record of non-drug offences. Nine out of ten of all cannabis offences were for possessing less than 30 grams. About a quarter of all cannabis offenders were sent to prison (or borstal, detention centre, or approved school); only about 13ΓΈ/G were made subject to a probation order; and about 17% of first offenders were sent to prison. There was notably greater emphasis on fines and imprisonment for possession of cannabis than of other dangerous drugs, but less use of probation and conditional discharge for possession of cannabis than for possession either of other dangerous drugs or of amphetamines and other 1964 Act drugs. Average fines for possession offences in 1967 were f36 in the case of cannabis: œ39 in the case of other dangerous drugs and œ28 10s. Od. in the case of 1964 Act drugs.

81. We believe that the association of cannabis in legislation with heroin and the other opiates is entirely inappropriate and that new and quite separate legislation to deal specially and separately with cannabis and its synthetic derivatives should be introduced as soon as possible. We arc also convinced that the present penalties for possession and supply are altogether too high.

82. Several of our witnesses also draw attention to thc principle of absolute liability on which drugs legislation had been constructed and to the effect of various High Court judgments that mens rea does not have to be proved before a person can be convicted of an offence of possession. They argued that in the circumstances it was not surprising that defendants made allegations of "planting" by unknown persons or the police, or that some sections of the public should feel disinclined to bring evidence of offences to the notice of the authorities. It was outside the scope of our enquiry to examine these matters in general. We were glad to note, however, that following the judgment of the House of Lords in the case of Warner v Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis, the Home Secretary undertook to examine, in conjunction with the Law Comission, the whole question of absolute liability in relation to drug offences. So far as cannabis is concerned, we have found nothing to justify making possession without knowledge an offence to which the law provides no defence, but we think that the form which defences might take is best left to be determined by the Home Secretary’s review.

83. From our study of the statistics and other evidence about the supply of cannabis in the United Kingdom we have come to the conclusions that the traditional view of the supplier as a large-scale criminal is an over-simplification, and that having a heavy maximum penalty for possession to allow for punishment of the large-scale trafficker exaggerates the criminality of drug-taking itself. It seems clear that in cannabis "society" there is a regular give and take of the drug and that many users arc in a position to supply it, and do supply it, in very small quantities without real criminal intent. None of our witnesses felt that "amateur" activities of this kind should be described as trafficking or singled out for particularly severe penalties. On the other hand, the margin between casual supply and purposeful profiteering is not so wide that a trafficker needs to be in regular possession of very large amounts to find his operations worth while. The courts today face considerable difficulty in penetrating the ambiguity of "possession", particularly since the norms of moderate drug-taking are not widely known. There is therefore a real risk, when the range of penalties is so extensive, that the courts may treat drug-takers with more, and drug-traffickers with less, severity than they deserve.

84. We considered thc practicability of reducing this risk by distinguishing more clearly in the law between possession intended for use and possession intended for supply. One approach, which we understand has been tried in some countries overseas, would be to provide a specific offence of possession with intent to supply, attracting higher penalties than the offence of simple possession and with an onus on the defendant, after the prosecution had shown him to be knowingly in possession of a prohibited drug, to prove, on the balance of probabilities, that he did not intend to supply it to another person. It may be that such a provision would be valuable in clarifying the true nature of offences of possession, but it cannot be fully considered apart from the broad balance of obligations on prosecution and defence. We therefore recommend that the possibilities should be further examined in the Home Secretary’s review of the question of strict liability. Subject to this, however, we think that a test of intent could produce further uncertainty in the law which it is our wish to remove.

85. Another course might be to devise a formula based on the amount of the drug found in a person’s possession for determining the penalty to be imposed. Thus a person having, say, 30 grams or less of cannabis leaf or resin in his possession without authority at the time of his arrest would be liable only to a small fine; unauthorised possession of larger amounts would attract a higher penalty. Such a formula. however, would present serious difficulties for enforcement because of the practical requirements for determining the amount, type and purity of any drug found with sufficient exactitude to sustain proceedings for unauthorised possession of more than the specified amount; for establishing, when synthetic alternatives become available, comparable norms attracting a fine only; and for dealing with the problems of adulteration and identification. The introduction of a quantitative formula might also have an effect on trafficking. The limitation of risk to a small fine might not only lead small-scale traffickers to conduct their operations on a wider scale and more openly, it might also encourage professional criminals to become involved in this activity: once a large consignment had been imported and concealed a well organised distribution of small amounts could be carried on with virtual impunity. We have concluded that these difficulties make it impracticable to introduce a quantitative formula into cannabis offences at this time.

86. After the fullest consideration we have come back to the view that the only practical way to legislate for the situation over the next few years, is to retain the principle of a single offence namely unlawful possession, sale or supply of cannabis or its derivatives. This offence should carry a low range of penalties on summary conviction but a substantially higher range on indictment. If such legislation were brought in we would anticipate that the police would proceed on indictment only in those cases in which they believed that there was organised large-scale trafficking. Offences involving simple possession and small-scale trafficking would, we hope, be dealt with summarily. (3)

87. In considering the scale of penalties our main aim, having regard to our view of the known effects of cannabis, is to remove for practical purposes, the prospect of imprisonment for possession of a small amount and to demonstrate that taking the drug in moderation is a relatively minor offence. Thus we would hope that juvenile experiments in taking cannabis would be recognised for what they are, and not treated as antisocial acts or evidence of unsatisfactory moral character. On the other hand, we would expect repeated convictions for possession of cannabis in the same way as convictions for drunkenness to carry certain social implications and penalties, e.g. in certain kinds of employment where evidence of a drug habit might be thought to be a disqualification. In our view the cannabis-taker who is open to reason is more likely to be deterred by considerations of this kind than by a scale of pena1ties.

88. On summary conviction we think that the fine should be limited to œ100. In many ways we would have preferred to have suggested no alternative prison sentence. It has, however, been represented to us that in United Kingdom law hybrid offences, such as we are suggesting, normally carry some prison sentence on summary conviction, and that this gives the judiciary useful discretion in dealing suitably with difficult individual cases. In this instance we can foresee situations where a person, repeatedly engaging in small-scale trafficking, but nevertheless trafficking of a blatantly commercial nature, would not be deterred by modest fines, whereas a short prison sentence without the panoply of proceedings by indictment would be appropriate. We recommend therefore that on summary conviction there be a maximum alternative penalty of four months imprisonment. In choosing this period we have been influenced by the fact that a four month sentence on summary conviction is one which allows the defendant an option of going for trial by jury . . . a not inconsiderable civil liberty. It is relevant to add that under section 39 of the Criminal Justice Act 1967 a court which imposed a sentence of not more than six months imprisonment for a cannabis offence, would be obliged to suspend that sentence except in certain conditions, of which the most important are that the offender has already served a sentence of borstal training or imprisonment, or is already on probation or under conditional discharge.

89. It is socially undesirable for an organised criminal underworld to be able to make large profits from any illicit activity. Therefore we recommend that on indictment the offence should be punishable by an unlimited fine or a sentence of imprisonment not exceeding two years or both. The maximum penalty for smuggling cannabis imposed by the Customs and Excise Act 1952 (as amended by the Dangerous Drugs Act 1967) should be reduced from 10 to 2 years. The existing provision under the Dangerous Drugs Act 1965 whereby proceedings on indictment are subject to the fiat of the Director of Public Prosecutions should be retained. In our view, however. such proceedings should normally only be appropriate in dealing with the large-scale trafficker.

90. It is our explicit opinion that any legislation directed towards a complex and changing problem like the use of cannabis cannot be regarded as final. For the foreseeable future, however, our objective is clear: to bring about a situation in which it is extremely unlikely that anyone will go to prison for an offence involving only possession for personal use or for supply on a very limited scale. We recommend that over the next three years the Advisory Committee should keep that objective under review and be ready to propose further measures if the objective is not being realised.

Use of premises for cannabis smoking or dealing

91. Section 5 of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1965 makes it an offence for an occupier to "permit" premises to be used for smoking or dealing in cannabis or cannabis resin and for any person to be concerned in the management of premises used for any such purpose. The object of this provision, which was first enacted in the Dangerous Drugs.Act 1964 (on the model of a long-standing provision about opium-smoking, now to be found in section 8 of the 1965 Act), was to discourage communal smoking and trafficking in cannabis in premises of public resort by placing the onus on the occupiers or managers to ensure that such premises were not used for these purposes. The precise effect of the law is now the subject of an appeal to the House of Lords. In considering the present provisions we have assumed that the question of the appropriateness of strict liability in the offence will be examined in the Home Secretary’s general review (paragraph 82).

92. In favour of the provision it was represented to us that if landlords or occupiers could not be held responsible, smoking parties would tend to increase, and drug-traffickers would be likely to use them to introduce smokers to other types of drugs. This would expose many young people to serious dangers outside the purview of routine checks by the police. In these circumstances it was urged that there should be a special obligation on those in charge of premises to prevent such activities. In the case of public premises, we were told that those having illicit possession of drugs found it easy to evade arrest by simply throwing the drugs on the floor. Unless those in charge of premises had a special obligation to prevent the use of, or traffic in, drugs, their tolerance of these activities it was said. could make for a considerable increase in the misuse of drugs

93. The "pot party" is the natural focus for public disquiet about cannabis and for the myths about the drug. If it were clear that intoxication, aggressive behaviour, sexual excesses, multiple drug use and crime were the predictable results of social smoking of cannabis, there would be a strong case for special steps to protect young people and for trying to enlist the help of these in charge of private premises. But, as is shown by the comparison we have drawn above between cannabis and other drugs, there is no evidence that taking cannabis in any special way stimulates behaviour of this kind. If cannabis is taken at a "wild party" it is not because it supplies the spark to what would otherwise not catch fire.

94. Whatever may be the justification for the provisions of section 8 of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1965 in regard to the smoking of opium (see paragraph 91) we are convinced that there is no sufficient justification, in the harmfulness of cannabis. for placing occupiers and landlords of private premises under any special obligation to prevent cannabis-smoking, and there is even less justification for doing so in respect of cannabis-dealing (since this is not distinctively different from dealing in any other kinds of drug). We therefore recommend that section 5 should be repealed in relation to premises to which the public has no access.

95. We think that occupiers and managers of premises open to the public are in a different position. Society expects those who undertake to provide services and entertainment for the public to conduct their premises in a proper way, and it is not unreasonable to place on them a duty to prevent open use of, or trafficking in, drugs. Even here, however, it is evident that the duty may be more onerous in some directions than in others. It is easy enough to detect the odour of burning cannabis, but much more difficult to confirm that an exchange of tablets between two customers is a breach of the law. We think that a reasonable course would be to redefine the scope of section 5 so as to apply it only to premises open to the public, to exclude the reference to dealing in the drug, and to remove the absolute nature of the liability on managers.

96. We are aware that there are some types of premises which are, strictly, not open to the public, but are not private premises in the conventional sense. The Private Places of Entertainment (Licensing) Act 1967 provides, on adoption by a local authority, for a measure of supervision over certain types of club. Although this Act may not cover all the kinds of premises which, reasonably, should be subject to the obligation we have proposed for public premises, we are satisfied that the main sectors about which we know the police to be most concerned are covered by our proposals.


Powers of arrest and search

97. In paragraph 81 we have recommended the separation of cannabis from the opiates in drugs legislation and in paragraph "8 and 89 we have proposed a reduction in penalties. Depending on the form and context in which legislative effect were given to these changes, consequential adjustments would have to be made in the present provisions which govern police powers of arrest and search in relation to cannabis offences. The present position is that under Section 2 of the Criminal Law Act 1967 the police have power to arrest without warrant any person who has committed or attempted to commit, or whom they have reasonable grounds to suspect to have committed or attempted to commit an "arrestable offence". Such an offence is one which is punishable with a sentence of at least 5 years imprisonment. In England and Wales this power may be exercised in respect of offences against the Dangerous Drugs Act 1965 (i.e. including cannabis offences) which, on conviction, carry a possible penalty of up to 10 years imprisonment. The Criminal Law Act does not apply to Scotland and Northern Ireland and in those countries the police powers of arrest without warrant for cannabis offences derive from section 15 of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1965, as amended by section 6 of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1967. Under these provisions the police have power to arrest without warrant any person who either has, or who is suspected of having, committed or attempted to commit a dangerous drugs offence, only if they have reasonable grounds for believing that that person will abscond unless arrested, or whose name and address are unknown to the police and cannot be ascertained by them, or in whose case the police are not satisfied than the name and address given to them arc true. As regards powers of search section 6 of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1967 introduced for drugs scheduled under the Dangerous Drugs Act 1965 and the Drugs (Prevention of Misuse Act 1964 new powers enabling the police to search persons and vehicles on suspicion. If the penalties for cannabis offences are reduced as we propose and if cannabis were excluded from the Dangerous Drugs Act 1965 the case for retaining these police powers would have to be reopened. This question of police powers cannot be realistically considered in relation to cannabis alone and it has been outside our task to examine the general issues. In the course of our enquiry, however, we have been made strongly aware both of concern about the effect of the exercise of these powers upon the relationship between the police and the public, and of the difficulties faced by enforcement authorities in recent years for which these wide powers of arrest and search have been thought to be essential. Because these features have contributed to so much of the current "protest" against the existing law we recommend that as a matter of urgency the Advisory Committee should begin a general review of police powers of arrest and search in relation to all drug offences with a view to advising the Secretary of State on any changes that may appear appropriate, particularly as regards cannabis. In the meantime, however, changes in cannabis legislation should go forward without any specific recommendation about arrest and search. This omission will not have any immediate practical consequences in that the powers referred to will stand for the other drugs; search on suspicion is normally for drugs in a general sense rather than for cannabis specifically.


Control of synthetic cannabinols

98. Neither the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs 1961 nor the Dangerous Drugs Act 1965 applies to synthetic cannabinols. Preliminary reports have suggested that some substances in this group are more potent than the natural product. So far no manufacture of such substances for non-scientific or non-medical purposes has come to notice, but such a development may be expected as soon as the necessary technical processes have been evolved. Without further amendment the powers available in the Pharmacy and Poisons Act 1933 and the Drugs (Prevention of Misuse) Act 1964 would permit controls to be applied to manufacture, distribution and sale and to limit authorised possession. We think that these powers should be sufficient, but we recommend that the position should be kept under review.

99. At present cannabis can be prescribed by doctors in the form of extract of cannabis and alcoholic tincture of cannabis. Until very recently the demand for these preparations has been virtually negligible. In recent months however, there has been a striking increase in the amounts prescribed. Our enquiries, supported by what we were told by our witnesses, indicate that there are a number of doctors who are beginning to experiment with the use of cannabis in the treatment of disturbed adolescents, heroin and amphetamine dependence and even alcoholism. Whilst we do not expect cannabis prescription will ever become standard medication in the treatment of these conditions, it is quite likely that the amount dispensed on medical prescriptions will continue to increase and that this process may be accelerated when synthetic cannabis derivatives, properly standardised, become available. We see no objection to this and believe that any new legislation should be such as to permit its continuance. We think, however, that when cannabis or its derivatives are prescribed, records of the kind that can be inspected by H.M. Inspectors of Drugs should be available. This will enable the prescribing trend over the next few years to be kept under methodical review.


100. The law alone cannot dispose of the problem of cannabis. However wise the law and whatever it says there will be those who will use cannabis and some who will suffer by it. Education too has a part to play. By "education" we do not mean formal propaganda (the need for which it has been outside our terms of reference to consider); a proper understanding of the significance of cannabis in our society at this time cannot be given simply by description of the effects of the drug and the relevant law. Rather do we mean the general process of questioning, observation, argument and assessment by which society commonly forms balanced attitudes to community problems and dangers. We hope that this report will contribute to an understanding both of the facts (and uncertainties) about cannabis and of the wider issues surrounding the problem of its control.

101. The following is a summary of our recommendations:

( 1 ) We recommend that in the interest of public health, it is necessary for the time being to maintain restrictions on the availability of cannabis (paragraphs 70 and 71).

(2) Every encouragement, both academic and financial, should be given to suitable projects for enquiry into the cannabis problem (paragraph 73). Suggestions about areas in which research is required are made in paragraph 74.

(3) The law should progressively be recast to give Parliament greater flexibility of control over individual drugs (paragraph 78).

(4) The association in legislation of cannabis with heroin and the other opiates is inappropriate and new legislation to deal specially and separately with cannabis and its synthetic derivatives should he introduced as soon as possible (paragraph 81).

(5) Unlawful possession of cannabis without knowledge should not be an offence for which the law provides no defence (paragraph 82). The practicability of distinguishing between possession intended for use and possession intended for supply should be examined (paragraph 84).

(6) Possession of a small amount of cannabis should not normally be regarded as a serious crime to be punished by imprisonment (paragraphs 87 and 90).

(7) The offence of unlawful possession, sale or supply of cannabis should be punishable on summary conviction with a fine not exceeding œ100, or imprisonment for a term not exceeding four months, or both such fine and imprisonment. On conviction on indictment the penalty should be an unlimited fine, or imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or both such fine and imprisonment (paragraph 86. 88 and 89).

(8) The existing law which inhibits research requiring the smoking of cannabis (section 5, Dangerous Drugs Act 1965) should be amended to allow qualified workers to study its use both by observation and by laboratory and social experiments (paragraph 75).

(9) Section 5 of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1965 (permitting premises to be used for smoking cannabis, etc.) should be redefined in scope so as to apply only to premises open to the public, to exclude the reference to dealing in cannabis and cannabis resin, and to remove the absolute nature of the liability on managers (paragraphs 94 and 95).

(10) The Advisory Committee should undertake, as a matter of urgency, a review of police powers of arrest and search in relation to drug offences generally with a view to advising the Secretary of State on any changes that may be appropriate in the law, particularly as regards cannabis (paragraph 97).

(11) The development of the manufacture of synthetic cannabinols should be kept under review and, if necessary, control should be imposed under powers provided by The Pharmacy and Poisons Act 1933 and The Drugs (Prevention of Misuse) Act 1964 (paragraph 98).

(12) Preparations of cannabis and its derivatives should continue to be available on prescription for purposes of medical treatment and research. Provision should be made in legislation for records to be maintained so that the position can be kept under review (paragraph 99).


102. We wish to express our most cordial appreciation of the help that we have had from our secretaries, Dr. E. G. Lucas and Mr. D. G. Turner. Their skill in clarifying issues and their patience in feeding our seemingly insatiable appetite for drafts and redrafts far surpassed anything that we had a right to expect. We would also like to extend our thanks to those other officials of the Home Office Ministry of Health and Scottish Home and Health Department who assisted us with valuable information and advice.

1. JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association. Vol 204, No. 13. June 24th. 1968.

2 See Appendix 6 for a summary of the main provisions of the law relating to the control of drugs.

3. In England and Wales offences are dealt with summarily at a magistrates’ court the verdict being decided by the magistrate. Trial on indicment takes place at a court of assize or quarter sessions where the verdict is decided by a jury.

In Scotland offences are dealt with both summarily and on indictment at a Sheriff Court.

Trial on indictment may also take place in the High Court.


















Joint Secretaries
4th October 1968




Back to contents