BlogIs medical cannabis legal in the UK?

Is medical cannabis legal in the UK?

7 min read

Lucy MacKinnon

medical cannabis legislation in the UK
Medical marijuana, or medical cannabis, has been used across the world for millennia to treat a wide range of conditions, ailments, and health disorders. In the UK, 90 years after its initial prohibition, cannabis-based products were legalised for medicinal and therapeutic purposes once again in 2018, so long as they are prescribed by a registered specialist doctor.


Medical Cannabis Legalisation UK

A large proportion of the population are unaware of UK cannabis laws, and the licensing regulations and frameworks that allow legal cannabinoids to be used in medicinal practices. In this article, we will answer the question ‘is medicinal cannabis legal in the UK?’, and explain the laws and policies in place that protect patients, prescribers, and producers of medical cannabis in the UK.

Is Medicinal Cannabis legal in the UK?

Yes, medical cannabis is legal in the UK. 

In the UK, cannabis is classed as an illegal substance under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and is scheduled as a Class B drug. However, medicinal cannabis is legal in the England, Scotland, Wales, and in Northern Ireland, and has been since 2018. 

Now in 2024, according to medical cannabis UK laws, cannabis can be possessed, prescribed, purchased, consumed, and cultivated legally, so long as it is used for a medicinal reason, and the individuals involved have legal authorisation.

In the UK, medicinal cannabis, or cannabis based products, can be prescribed to patients struggling to manage a wide range of conditions by doctors who appear on the General Medical Council’s Specialist Register. Licensed pharmacies can then dispense medical cannabis to patients with valid prescriptions, and these patients are then legally permitted to possess, carry, and consume this cannabis, or cannabis-based product.

Is growing cannabis legal in the UK?

It is illegal to grow cannabis in the UK without a licence, regardless of whether it is being produced or cultivated for medical purposes or not. Licensed growers are able to legally cultivate cannabis plants which can then be prescribed for medicinal purposes, but there are strict rules and regulations these manufacturers must follow to ensure the efficacy and safety of their products.

In the UK, a medical cannabis licence, or cannabis growing licences, are issued by the government. Applicants can apply through the government website and prove they own, or are able to rent, a property that is suitable for cultivating cannabis safely, and have all the necessary equipment involved in growing cannabis. 

The individual's criminal record is checked, and a DBS check is also required prior to consideration for Controlled Drugs Domestic Licence. If the application is successful, a licence issued and the individual has to inform the government of how much cannabis they produce each year. 

Although they are abundantly available to purchase online, according to UK law, cannabis seeds cannot be legally grown by those without a medical cannabis growing licence. Those found to be growing or selling cannabis without a licence, and therefore illegally, could face up to 14 years in prison.

What is the Medical Cannabis (Access) Bill?

In 2021, the Medical Cannabis Access Bill was introduced to UK Law by The House of Commons. This document was released to clarify the regulation of cannabis-based products, and medical marijuana in the UK, following its legalisation in November 2018, and improve access to this type of medicine.

The Bill proposes widening restrictions on the prescription of cannabis-based products, from just those listed on the GMC’s specialist register, to also include practising GPs who are on the front line of healthcare. Two years later, in 2023, an Early Day Motion was filed, supported by a group of MPs, repeating this request to allow GPs to prescribe medical cannabis in the UK -  but this is still yet to be approved by parliament, or implemented in law.

When is it legal to use cannabis in the UK?

Medical cannabis is legal in the UK, and patients with a valid prescription are legally permitted to use, carry, and possess this type of cannabis because it is their medication. 

Regardless of whether its intended purpose is medicinal, therapeutic, or recreational, if an individual does not have a valid prescription for medicinal cannabis, or is found to be in possession of cannabis that has been purchased or grown illegally, they are breaking the law.

Smoking cannabis is illegal in the UK, and although medical cannabis, or medical marijuana is legal in the UK, it is a criminal offence to administer cannabis in this way. Medical cannabis flowers are often prescribed to eligible patients, but these are prescribed to be administered using a vaporizer, which uses convection heating, and not to be smoked which requires combustion.

How many patients use medical cannabis in the UK?

Unfortunately, the exact number of patients using medical cannabis in the UK is unknown, and various different figures have been reported. In August 2022, the Metro reported that there were around 17,000 people in the UK using medical cannabis, but the following year MP Crispin Blunt stated around 20,000 people have a private prescription for medical cannabis in the UK, and a further 1,000 have NHS prescriptions.

These figures seem low when placed alongside market research statistics analysing UK health and patient eligibility. For example, in June 2023 we published the findings from our Say No To Pain Report, which estimates around 29.6 million adults in the UK have a medical condition which is eligible for cannabis-based treatments.

Other reports estimate that in the UK around 1.8 million people are using cannabis for medicinal purposes, but they are sourcing it illegally, through street-dealers and illegal growers as opposed to through legal avenues.

What medical conditions make cannabis use legal in the UK?

Medical conditions do not make cannabis use legal in the UK, but cannabis can be legally prescribed to aid, manage, or treat certain medical conditions. 

If cannabis is sourced illegally, it is illegal - regardless of whether the individual holds a valid prescription for medical cannabis or not. Only cannabis that is dispensed by a licensed pharmacy or dispensary, under the recommendation of a specialist doctor for use by a specific patient, is legal in the UK. 

Medical cannabis has shown promise in a large range of areas, from neurological, psychiatric, and gastroenterological conditions, to treating chronic pain, sleeping disorders, or offering compassionate care to those suffering with cancer. If you are living with one of these conditions and are wondering whether medical cannabis may be a suitable option for you, why not fill out our eligibility checker to find out more.

How can I get a prescription for medical cannabis in the UK?

If you have an eligible condition, getting a prescription for medical cannabis in the UK is very simple. At Releaf, customers can fill out a quick online eligibility checker online, which is then assessed by a team of experts to establish whether medical cannabis may be a suitable option for them. 

If deemed suitable, an appointment with one of our specialist doctors will be arranged at a time convenient for the customer, and a virtual initial consultation will take place. If the doctor feels cannabis-based treatments may offer the patient relief, they will issue a prescription, and the patient can subscribe to Releaf, and arrange for their medication to be delivered directly to their door.

It is important to seek medical advice before starting any new treatments. The patient advisors at Releaf are available to provide expert advice and support. Alternatively, click here to book a consultation with one of our specialist doctors.

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With five years of journalism and healthcare content creation under her belt, Lucy strives to improve medical cannabis awareness and access in the UK by producing high quality, credible content.

Our articles are written by experts and reviewed by medical professionals or compliance specialists. Adhering to stringent sourcing guidelines, we reference peer-reviewed studies and scholarly research. View our editorial policy.

Further reading

Understanding the lingo: medical cannabis terminology

Cannabis-based remedies are mentioned as far back as the Ancient Egyptians and Ancient Greeks. In fact, the earliest mention of medical cannabis is believed to date back even further to the time of the Ancient Chinese Emperor Shen Nung - known as the Father of Chinese Medicine - almost 5,000 years ago!

Emily Ledger

How Labour’s election win could impact medical cannabis patients

As Keir Starmer becomes the new UK Prime Minister, what impact—if any—will a Labour government have on medical cannabis policy? On Friday, 5 July, the UK woke up to a new era as Keir Starmer was elected as the first Labour Prime Minister in 14 years.

Sarah Sinclair