Did you know that hemp and cannabis have been grown in the UK for hundreds of years? Cannabis seeds in York were found in a well that archaeologists believe date to the 10th century AD. Further investigations suggest that the plant was primarily grown in coastal areas and that the hemp fibres were used to make rope and fishing nets rather than smoking. However, no one can say that they didn’t for sure!
Although smoking tobacco became popular as soon as it was brought back from the Americas in the 15th century, smoking cannabis for recreational purposes only took off in the 1960s with the rise of the ‘hippie’ counterculture. Today, cannabis in the UK is regularly consumed by a wide section of society, with many using it for medicinal purposes.
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UK law: is it legal to grow cannabis in the UK?
The UK is one of the world’s biggest markets for the drug which makes it so surprising that growing it is still illegal, despite many surveys that reveal that the majority of the population would be in favour of a relaxation of the UK law.
Growing cannabis in the UK is still very much illegal and can carry serious penalties, ranging from a few weeks community services to as many as ten years behind bars. Many feel that this attitude is draconian and rather a shame as the UK’s mild climate is ideal for growing plentiful harvests of marijuana.
The production or manufacture of any drug is prohibited in the UK, including the cultivation of cannabis. However, a 2016 UN report showed that 95 tonnes of cannabis were grown in the United Kingdom for medicinal and scientific applications. This was almost half of the total world production.
Also, the UK is the largest illegal exporter of cannabis and supplies 67.7% of the total in the world for consumption in other countries.
It is no surprise that some call the widespread cultivation for medicinal purposes hypocritical when you consider how difficult it is to obtain medicinal cannabis in the UK. Philip May, the husband of former UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, is a major investor in GW Pharmaceuticals. This company produces Sativex, one of the world’s most widely used medicinal cannabis products.
Industrial hemp in the United Kingdom
The United Kingdom has a small industrial hemp market and it is allowed to grow the plant with a government permit. The costs for a permit are £580 and an extension costs £326. Growers must also provide information about the type of seed used, the THC content and whether the seed has been approved by the EU.
There are certain restrictions. For example, some locations are not allowed or need to be screened, for example near a school or public space. Besides, the local police must be informed that hemp is grown.
Organizations like the British Hemp Association are trying to expand the industry, mainly through research at the University of York and other institutions.
Don’t worry though, if you would like to grow cannabis in the UK, there are some tactics you can try that will either help you evade detection or avoid prosecution in the courts.
The first thing you need to do is to join a collective; a group of users who want to use cannabis for medical reasons and do not wish to buy cannabis on the street. The best way to do this is to get in touch with the UK Cannabis Social Club (UKCSC). There are around 80 cannabis clubs active in the UK. Some clubs even have their own building and most have between 100 and 150 members and thousands of associate members. The cannabis clubs in the UK are mainly inspired by the groundbreaking clubs in Spain, offering their members a safe environment for growing and using cannabis, knowing exactly what type they were and how powerful it was.
The United Kingdom Cannabis Social Clubs National Committee (UKCSC) has three main objectives:
- Ensure that the British government lets people grow a modest supply of cannabis in their own homes.
- Legalize sharing of cannabis without fear of persecution.
- Legalization of cannabis consumption in a social group, within the walls of a private club or location.
This society will be able to give you plenty of advice and tactics to help you grow cannabis safely. One strategy, for example, is to buy a kit supplied by the group, which contains branded tags emblazoned with unique serial numbers, as well as a poster displaying information for the police. Up to nine plants can be tagged in one grow location, which demonstrates to the police that your operation is not a large-scale commercial operation.
How many cannabis plants can I legally grow in the UK?
Arrest and prosecution seems largely at the discretion of the local police. Caught growing one to two plants and you would be unlucky to receive more than a caution. If you are found with a nursery full of cannabis plants, you will be highly likely to be treated as a supplier of contraband. 9 plants are the highest number of plants you can grow to be classed as a domestic operation – over this number is classed as a category 4 offence.
What happens if you get caught growing weed in the UK?
In the worst-case scenario, that the police raid your house and you are caught growing cannabis and unable to prove that your plants are for personal medicinal use and you haven’t the support of UKSCS, the following sentencing guidelines apply:
Growing more than 28 plants is classed a category 3 crime; category 2 is cannabis – operation capable of producing significant quantities for commercial use, and category 1 is an operation capable of producing industrial quantities for commercial use. Sentencing guidelines are as follows if you have a leading role in the operation.
- Category 1 | 5 years’ custody
- Category 2 | 2 – 5 years’ custody
- Category 3 | 1 – 3 years’ custody
- Category 4 | 18 months’ custody or community service
However, there are some vital details you absolutely must remember if you are caught, so they have no excuse to attempt a prosecution for intent to supply. Make sure any paraphernalia such as small plastic bags and tiny scales are not found. Any impression that you are growing with an intent to supply could result in the full weight of the UK law landing heavily on you. Another tip is to keep the plants well away from any exterior walls/roofing of the building, you don’t want the wall to glow up under infrared cameras.
Discretion is important when growing weed in the UK. Most arrests are made after suspicious neighbours have ‘tipped off’ the local constabulary. Living in a remote cottage or farm in the sparsely populated part of the country with a large plot is preferable to growing it in a busy town!
Remember that if you can convince the court of personal possession, it’s unlikely to ever result in a prison sentence especially as the latest guidelines which appear to make it more lenient for personal possession.
Growing cannabis outdoors in the UK
It is certainly possible to successfully grow weed outdoors in the UK, especially in the south of England, which is good news as weed grown in the natural sun has a better flavour and quality than weed grown in the artificial light. Growing cannabis in the wild also known as ‘guerilla growing‘ is becoming popular and can be done pretty much anywhere. The cultivation of autoflowering varieties means that it is now easy to raise a fine crop of cannabis in as little as 9 weeks. A secluded back garden with high walls or thick hedges would be so much the better! May is a good time to sow the seeds directly into the ground or you can plant established seedlings from June onwards.
Reading tip: Best cannabis seeds for UK climate
Will cannabis ever be legal in the UK?
Currently, neither of the two main political parties (Labour and the Conservatives) have declared their intention to decriminalize cannabis for recreational purposes.
Although the legalization of medicinal cannabis is a step forward, the current restrictions do not make medicinal cannabis products available everywhere. The government has said it wants to rectify this, it remains to be seen whether this will happen or not.