Cannabis driving laws in the UK

Cannabis driving laws in the UK


Founder of the UK Cannabis Social Clubs, Greg is considered an expert on all things cannabis. Greg campaigned for the medical cannabis laws we now operate under appearing on the BBC, in The Times, Telegraph and has been published in the British Medical Journal.

In the UK, it is a legal requirement to drive only when you are in a suitable condition to do so. This means being mentally alert and physically capable of controlling the vehicle at all times. There are different methods used to determine this. One of these methods involves testing for the presence of specific substances in your blood or breath.

There is no specific limit for CBD, as CBD is non-intoxicating. There is, however, a limit of 2 micrograms of Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) per litre of blood. This limit applies even if you have a prescription for medical cannabis.

There is also an assumption that drivers will recognise the difference between legal limits and their own impairment levels. In other words, drivers are expected to recognise if they are unfit to drive for any reason, even if they are below the legal limits.

Exploring the impact of cannabis on driving

In the UK, cannabis is still illegal unless it has been prescribed by a specialist doctor. On the 1st of November, medical cannabis became a reality here in the UK, with many patients now being able to get the treatment they need through both the NHS and private clinics.

CBD products, however, are legal provided they contain a maximum of 0.2% THC or 1 mg of THC per container. This is due to the fact that THC is the intoxicating component of cannabis.

CBD products – creams, tinctures, oils, edibles etc. – can be found in health stores, pharmacies, and even supermarkets these days, so it comes as no surprise that many people wonder if they are legally allowed to operate a motor vehicle whilst applying or administering CBD products.

The answer, thankfully, is yes.

But this does come with a caveat. Over-the-counter CBD products have been known to (in very few cases) not contain exactly what is stated on the label. This means that you could potentially be consuming more THC than you are aware of.

In response to this, in January 2019, the UK government enacted stricter regulatory processes in the CBD industry, which should ensure that all CBD products are accurately labelled. CBD products are now classed as 'novel food items', meaning that companies must provide full lab testing results and a certificate of analysis.

In contrast to CBD, THC is linked to a dip in cognitive function and motor skill impairments.

These impairments pose challenges for drivers in accurately perceiving the road and can have a marked impact on reaction times. THC consumption can also hinder a driver's ability to accurately assess distances, which in turn may affect their capacity to manoeuvre the vehicle correctly.

Regardless, the end result remains the same: drivers who are under the influence of THC can pose a threat not only to themselves but also to other drivers and the wider public.

Therefore, driving while impaired by cannabis that contains elevated levels of THC is illegal, and is regarded in a similar light as drink-driving. It typically results in comparable forms of punishment.

What are the punishments for driving while under the influence of THC?

The penalties that can, and will, be enforced if you are caught driving under the influence of THC include:

  • A driving ban of 12 to 36 months
  • A possible prison sentence of up to 6 months (reserved for more serious cases)
  • An unlimited fine, determined on a case-by-case basis
  • The conviction will result in a criminal record, potentially affecting foreign travel plans
  • The defendant's licence being endorsed for 11 years, which can lead to higher insurance premiums

If you are deemed to have been driving under the influence of THC, and cause harm to the public, then you may also face a charge of dangerous driving. This carries significantly higher penalties, including up to 14 years in prison and an unlimited fine. If you cause the death of another person while driving under the influence of THC, then you may face a charge of causing death by careless or dangerous driving. This carries a penalty of up to life imprisonment.

How the cannabis limit is enforced

The cannabis limit is enforced in much the same way as the alcohol limit. In general, enforcement is reactionary. That is to say, the police will respond to a direct observation of concerning behaviour or to a report of it. The police will, however, sometimes conduct random stops of vehicles.

The observational assessment: Police will observe the driver of the vehicle for any evidence that their driving ability is impaired. For example, they will check for signs of bloodshot eyes or for the smell of cannabis (or alcohol). This may include a specific check of how a driver’s eyes react to a stimulus, usually a moving object and/or a light.

The field impairment test (FIT): When a police officer suspects that a driver may not be fit to operate a vehicle, they may administer one or more roadside impairment tests. Although the exact procedures can vary among different police forces and individual officers, these tests often include instructions to walk in a straight line. The purpose of these tests is to assess the driver's cognitive function, balance, coordination, and accuracy in following instructions.

The DrugWipe test: The DrugWipe test is a convenient and non-invasive method used to provide an indication of drug use. It is a highly sensitive test capable of detecting low doses of various drugs. The detection window for the DrugWipe test ranges from a few hours to a few days, depending on the specific drug and the individual's metabolism. It's important to note that a positive result from the DrugWipe test alone does not establish impairment; it just serves as an initial indicator and, hence, a justification for further testing. THC can be present in saliva or an average of 3–5 days, even after a small, single-use.

Arrest and further testing: If a police officer has reasonable suspicion of impairment, they have the authority to arrest the driver and transport them to a police station for further testing. At the police station, additional impairment tests may be conducted by a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE). Currently, the most reliable method for confirming THC-related drug impairment is through a blood sample, as there is no widely accepted and reliable urine test available for this purpose.

What to do if you’re stopped by police

There are three simple rules when it comes to being stopped by the police (in any situation). Rule one is to stay polite. Rule two is to do exactly what they ask you, no more and no less. Rule three is to request the presence of a lawyer if you are directed to provide blood for testing purposes. This last rule is absolutely imperative, as the police have been known to employ less than stellar tactics at times, and having a legal representative at your side can make all the difference.

If you have concerns about the legality of their actions, then you can ask them to confirm the legal basis. You should, however, be aware that the Road Traffic Act 1988 does give police the authority to conduct field impairment tests if they have reasonable suspicion of driver impairment. If you refuse to cooperate with these, the police can simply arrest you and take you to a station for testing.

If you refuse to provide a sample for testing, the legal consequences can be similar to those for a positive test result. The law does, however, recognise that some people may have legitimate reasons for being unwilling or unable to give a blood sample. For example, you might have a phobia of needles or a medical condition that makes it hard for a doctor to draw blood safely. If any of these apply to you, inform the police and request legal advice.

Cannabis and driving in the UK in brief

While certain cannabis-based products (CBD) are totally legal in the UK, THC is still classed as a controlled substance and it's illegal to drive while under its influence. The limit for THC in blood stands at 2 micrograms per litre. If you are caught driving over this limit, you may receive a range of potential punishments including fines, license endorsements, and prison sentences depending on the severity of the offence.

The best way to avoid these penalties is, of course, to always drive sober. However, if you are taking medicinal THC products it's important to be aware of the legal limits. The guidelines above should help you understand what those limits are and how they're enforced - so that you can stay on the right side of the law while accessing the treatment you need.

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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