EducationKey cannabis statistics, facts, and figures in the UK

Key cannabis statistics, facts, and figures in the UK

7 min read

Lucy MacKinnon

Key cannabis statistics, facts, and figures in the UK

We’ve written this article to help give you a snapshot of the facts and statistics about cannabis in the UK, summarising the available data on cannabis cultivation, consumption, and criminality in Britain.

Contents

The cannabis sativa L. plant has been cultivated and consumed for both recreational and therapeutic reasons spanning back thousands of years, and in 2019 it was estimated that there were around 4.7 million cannabis consumers in the UK. Historians estimate that this powerful plant made its British debut in the Nineteenth Century when it thrived as both a recreational and a medicinal drug, however, almost a century later in 1928, The United Kingdom altered The Dangerous Drugs Act, prohibiting cannabis and criminalising its usage for the first time.

In the last 90 years, cannabis has been reclassified and rescheduled a number of times, with the most recent being the legalisation of medical cannabis in November 2018. But, even with persistent prohibition and anti-cannabis propaganda, the plant's popularity as a recreational drug has not fallen in the way policymakers may have once hoped.

Since the very first official Crime Survey conducted in 1995, cannabis has persistently taken the top spot as the most commonly used recreational drug each year in England and Wales. In June 2022, 7.4% of Brits aged between 16 and 59 reported using cannabis within the last year, with more than a third saying they consumed cannabis at least once a month.

Recreational cannabis use in the UK

In April 2023, Releaf conducted our own national survey of 4,210 adults to assess and understand the current cannabis climate in the UK and found 23.78% of respondents have consumed non-prescription cannabis at some point in their lifetime. Split by sex, this equated to 25% of males and 22% of female participants, and when asked why they had consumed cannabis, recreational reasons were cited by over three-quarters of all respondents.

Our data showed that cannabis consumption remained relatively stable amongst age demographics, with one dramatic exception: the 75-84 age range. Only 6% of the 239 respondents we surveyed aged between 75 and 84 reported using cannabis at least once in their lives, whilst the 25-34 and 55-65 age ranges had an average of 34% and 20% respectively.

In 2021, The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) published its findings from 2018, assessing the frequency of cannabis use in the UK. This report also found cannabis use is the least prevalent amongst those in the 55 to 64 age category, with only 1.3% of this population admitting to its use in the last year. However, the plant's popularity remains clear in younger demographics as 17.3% of those aged between 15 and 24, and 10.4% of those aged between 24 and 34 reported cannabis use in the last year.

Medical cannabis in the UK 

In the British Medical Journal (BMJ), there are 52 health conditions listed as potential candidates for medical cannabis treatments, and in 2018 it was estimated that 1.4 million people in the UK were using cannabis to treat some form of chronic health condition. Despite the legalisation of medical cannabis in November 2018, one year later, only around 100 patients were registered to have successfully secured a prescription.

Although in 2023 this number is now closer to 32,000, our data showed only around 40% of British adults are aware that medical cannabis has been legal in the UK for almost five years. We included half of the conditions listed in the BMJ in our survey and discovered that over 50% of the British population, or 29.6 million Brits, may be eligible patients for medical cannabis treatments. The most common eligible conditions that had been diagnosed within our sample were anxiety, depression, migraines, osteoarthritis, chronic pain, and conditions relating to gut health.

Cannabis arrests and convictions in the UK

According to data available in the House of Commons Library, possession of cannabis was the leading drug offence recorded between 2020 and 2021, with 133,805 reported incidents. Most of these offences resulted in cautions, however, custody records from the Metropolitan Police mention cannabis possession a total of 12,706 times in 2020.

Although the arrest numbers for cannabis possession do not differ dramatically depending on ethnicity in the UK, when analysed in relation to the ethnic composition of England the racial disparity in cannabis policing can be clearly seen. 3719 people who described their ethnicity as Black were arrested by the Metropolitan Police for possessing cannabis in 2021, compared to 3218 people who identified as White. However, census data from the same year shows that only 4.2% of the population identified as Black, Black British, Black Caribbean or Black African, whilst 81% identified as White.

The economic impact of cannabis in the UK

Although medical cannabis has only been legal in the United Kingdom since November 2018, in 2016 it was reported that the UK dominated the cannabis exports industry. Producing around 95 tonnes in one year, in 2016 the UK was responsible for 44% of global cannabis sales, making it the largest supplier of medical cannabis in the world. In 2021 these figures had risen dramatically, and the UK is reported to have produced 329 tonnes or 59 hectares of harvested cannabis in just one year.

In September 2022, Scottish National Party politician and MP for Linlithgow and East Falkirk, Martyn Day wrote to the House of Commons to ask the Secretary of State for business, energy, and industrial strategy to assess the influence of the medical cannabis industry on British employment levels and its impact on the economy. The response, from Ms Nusrat Ghani, explained the government had no intention of revealing exactly how much revenue or employment is generated from the cannabis market specifically, and instead cited data relating to the entire biopharmaceutical sector.

Without concrete figures it is difficult to establish the economic impact of cannabis in the UK, however, in 2018 the Taxpayers’ Alliance released a report that estimated the legalisation of cannabis would potentially save the UK around £890 million each year. This figure was broken down into several cost categories including police funding, legal services, and prison costs that related to the 1363 people incarcerated for cannabis-related offences during 2018 in England and Wales.

Conclusion

It is clear that the UK has been, and continues to be, a leader in the global cannabis industry. From medical research and exports to recreational use, the UK has seen a significant shift in attitudes towards cannabis over the last five years. With figures such as those quoted by Taxpayers’ Alliance suggesting reform could save hundreds of millions each year, it appears the time is right for the UK to continue its progressive approach towards cannabis reform.

By creating a legal framework that allows for the sale of medical and recreational cannabis products, while ensuring strict regulations are in place, British businesses can benefit from this industry without diminishing public safety or allowing those with criminal records access to the market. With further research into both the medicinal benefits of cannabis and possible economic advantages, it is essential that the UK continues to take a progressive stance on cannabis reform.

The medical benefits of cannabis are increasingly being recognised as it is showing potential to treat the symptoms of a wide variety of conditions. Thankfully, medical cannabis is now fully legal here in the UK, and there are many avenues for patients to access this potentially life-changing complementary therapeutic option.

Don't let the stigma surrounding medical cannabis prevent you from getting a suitable treatment. Releaf provides tailored monthly packages, specialist consultations for medical cannabis, and a unique medical cannabis card for protection, all based on your medical cannabis prescription.

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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Authors

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.

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