Cannabis classification in the United Kingdom
Cannabis classification in the United Kingdom refers to the class of drugs, as determined by the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, that cannabis is placed in. Between 1928 and 2004 and since 2009, it has been classified as a class B drug. From 2004 to 2009, it was in class C (less harmful).
Transfer to class C
As Home Secretary in Tony Blair's Labour government, David Blunkett announced in 2001 that cannabis would be transferred from class B of the Act to class C, removing the threat of arrest for possession. Arrest would still be possible for distribution, however. Reclassification had the support of a plurality of the public, with surveys at the time finding that 49% of British adults supported cannabis decriminalisation, 36% were against, and 15% were undecided. The transfer eventually happened in January 2004, after class C penalties for distribution had been stiffened. The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs had recommended such a reclassification as early as 1979, a view endorsed by the Runciman Report in 1999.
The change was designed to enable police forces to concentrate resources on other (more serious) offences, including those involving "harder drugs". The government stated that the reclassification of cannabis to class C had the desired effect, with arrests for cannabis possession falling by one third in the first year following, saving an estimated 199,000 police hours.
Return to Class B
During the 2005 general election, Blair announced that the reclassification of cannabis from class B to C would be reviewed in light of new scientific research, and the issue was referred to the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.
Early in January 2006 Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, said that on the basis of advice from the Advisory Council, a decision was made not to return cannabis to class B. However, during Prime Minister's Questions on 18 July 2007, Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced that the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, was reviewing again whether to return cannabis to class B status. On 7 May 2008, Smith confirmed that cannabis in the UK would again be classified as a class B drug, despite the Advisory Council's recommendation. On 26 January 2009, cannabis was reclassified as a class B drug. The reclassification of cannabis to a class B drug had been hinted at as early as 2005 by allies of Gordon Brown, on the election night in 2005, Ed Balls stated that cannabis and the war in Iraq were mistakes that the Labour party had to learn from. A custodial sentence of 28 days is now given to anyone in possession 3 times or more.
2012 Home Affairs Committee consideration
In 2012 the Home Affairs Select Committee produced a report on the UK's drugs policies. The committee were split on if to recommend reducing the classification of cannabis back to class C. A vote was held in committee on the inclusion of the following sentence:
We remain, however, of the view expressed in our predecessors' Report, namely that cannabis be reclassified from class B to C, and therefore regret the decision taken by the Government in 2008
—The House of Commons, 2012
The vote was tied, 3:3, and the chair, Keith Vaz MP, voted to keep the sentence in the report and therefore recommend reducing the classification.