Reclassification of Cannabis


  • Cannabis is a Class B drug.
  • In 2004 cannabis was reclassified from a Class B drug to a Class C drug by the then Labour Government, putting it on a par with sleeping pills (e.g. Diazepam or Temazepam).
  • The Labour Government returned cannabis to Class B in 2009 after the harm caused by downgrading the drug became widely accepted.
  • Over 19,000 young people under 18 received medical treatment for substance misuse in 2013-4. Of these, 71% cited cannabis as their primary substance of misuse; 170 of those treated for cannabis were aged 12 or under.1
  • Yet drug taking is still a minority activity. Most people have never used an illegal drug – 65% of those aged 16 to 59 have never used an illegal drug and only 6.7% of 16 to 59-year-olds have taken cannabis in the last year.2 The media creates a perception that cannabis use is more common than it actually is.
  • Possession of Class B drugs is an offence that can attract up to five years in prison, an unlimited fine or both. Dealing in Class B drugs can be subject to a maximum 14-year prison sentence.
  • Possession of Class C drugs can carry an unlimited fine, up to a maximum 2-year prison sentence, or both. Penalties for dealing in Class C drugs are the same as for dealing in Class B drugs.3
  • People found possessing small quantities of cannabis are subject to a three-stage ‘escalation’ procedure. For a first offence, police will generally issue a cannabis warning. This is followed by a small fine known as a ‘Penalty Notice for Disorder’ on the second occasion. People will generally only be charged for a third or subsequent offence.4

Biblical arguments

The Bible teaches that drunkenness is wrong. “Do not get drunk on wine” (Ephesians 5:18). Jesus Christ refused stupefying drugs immediately before he was crucified (Mark 15:23). Intoxication and loss of control are intrinsic to drugs in a way that is not true of alcohol, and the Bible repeatedly condemns intoxication when it addresses drunkenness.

When intoxicated, people lose control. This can lead to wrong actions and irresponsible behaviour. Substance abuse leads to problems in health, relationships and work. Dependence on drugs compounds these problems.

Christians are instructed to “Be self-controlled and alert” (1 Peter 5:8). The law at present restrains drug taking because it is dangerous and acts as a necessary constraint for the good of all society. Christians must therefore take a stand as it becomes ever more fashionable to argue for the legalisation of all drugs.

Key points

  • Cannabis is a very harmful, mind-altering drug. A 2015 review of studies over 20 years found that regular cannabis use increases the risk of mental and physical health problems, and may cause intellectual impairment.5
  • Cannabis acts as a gateway drug to harder illicit drugs. A 2010 study found that 92 per cent of heavy drug users claimed to have used cannabis before any of the hard drugs and nearly all hard drug users seem to have used cannabis at some point.6
  • Cannabis was legalised for recreational use in Colorado in January 2014. It has already had alarming consequences:
  • In 2014, there was a 32% increase in cannabis-related traffic deaths in just one year.
  • Cannabis-related hospital admissions increased by 38% in 2014 compared with admissions in 2013.7
  • Evidence shows that smoking cannabis regularly is harmful to the lungs and it has been linked to many respiratory problems, including acute bronchitis. Cannabis smoke contains the same carcinogens as tobacco smoke and cannabis smokers inhale up to four times more tar than tobacco smokers. There are also studies showing an increased risk of lung cancer from smoking cannabis.8
  • If cannabis is legalised, the risk of accidents and road deaths resulting from drug driving will only increase. Cannabis can impair reaction times and concentration. A review of studies found that cannabis-affected drivers can be three to six times more likely to be the cause of accidents in which they are involved, compared to drivers that had not used drugs or alcohol.9
  • Cannabis can severely affect mental health. There is growing evidence of a causal link between cannabis use and schizophrenia.10 Also, it has long been known that using cannabis causes schizophrenia in those already predisposed to develop the condition. Studies have indicated that regular cannabis use in adolescence approximately doubles the risk of being diagnosed with schizophrenia or reporting psychotic symptoms in adulthood.11 The Royal College of Psychiatrists says that those who use cannabis, particularly at a younger age, “have a higher than average risk of developing a psychotic illness”.12
  • Decriminalisation would give the wrong message that taking cannabis is OK.
  • The fact that people break the law is not a reason to scrap it.
  • Young people deserve to be protected against the damage caused by drugs. Policy reversals leave young people confused as to just how dangerous cannabis can be.
  • Cannabis use among young people has been found to significantly increase the risk of poor school performance and early school leaving.13
  1. 1Young people’s statistics from the National Drug Treatment Monitoring System (NDTMS) 1 April 2013 to 31 March 2014, Department of Health, January 2015, pages 9 and 11
  2. 2Drug Misuse: Findings from the 2014/15 Crime Survey for England and Wales: Second Edition, Home Office, (03/15) July 2015, Tables 1.01 and 1.02
  3. 3‘Drugs penalties’,, see, last updated 12 August 2015, as at 22 October 2015
  4. 4Penalty Notices for Disorder (PNDs), Ministry of Justice, 24 June 2014, page 10
  5. 5Hall, W, ‘What has research over the past two decades revealed about the adverse health effects of recreational cannabis use?’, Addiction, 110 (1), January 2015, pages 19-35
  6. 6Melberg, H O, Jones, A and Bretteville-Jensen, A, ‘Is cannabis a gateway to harder drugs?’ Empirical Economics, Vol 38(3), June 2010, pages 592-593
  7. 7The Legalization of Marijuana in Colorado: The Impact, Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, Vol 3, September 2015, pages 16 and 81
  8. 8The impact of cannabis on your lungs, British Lung Foundation, 2012, pages 2, 6 and 9
  9. 9Ramaekers, J G, Berghaus, G, van Laar, M et al, ‘Dose related risk of motor vehicle crashes after cannabis use’, Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 73, 2004, pages 109–119
  10. 10Radhakrishnan, R, Wilkinson, S and D’Souza, D C, ‘Gone to pot – a review of the association between cannabis and psychosis’, Frontiers in Psychiatry, 5(54), May 2014
  11. 11Hall, W, ‘What has research over the past two decades revealed about the adverse health effects of recreational cannabis use?’, Addiction, August 2014, pages 7-8,12
  12. 12‘Cannabis and mental health’, see last updated June 2014, as at 6 October 2015
  13. 13Lynskey, M and Hall, W, ‘The effects of adolescent cannabis use on educational attainment: a review’, Addiction, 2000, 95(11), pages 1621-1630