Cannabis is illegal to possess and cultivate in most countries. However, recent research into its medical benefits of pot have revealed it is a relatively benign and mostly harmless substance. Many countries, including the UK, Portugal and Canada, are re-evaluating the plant's legal status.
Legal Status of Marijuana in the United States
Cannabis remains a Schedule I drug in the United States, along with LSD and heroin, carrying the severest federal penalties for possession and supply. A person who is found guilty of possessing more than 1,000 kilograms or more of marijuana or over 1,000 pot plants is subject to the following penalties:
- Imprisonment for a period of 10 years to life; if a death or serious injury results, the sentence increases to 20 years to life.
- A fine of up to $4 million for an individual; up to $10 million if the defendant is someone other than an individual.
If the defendant had been previously convicted of a felony, the penalty for this offense is 20 years to life. If death or a serious injury resulted from the distribution of the drug, the defendant may be sentenced to life in prison. The fines that may be imposed double to $8 million for an individual and $20 million where the defendant is not an individual.
When a defendant is convicted of possession of 100 kg of Mary Jane or 100 pot plants, he or she may be sentenced to the following punishment:
- Imprisonment for between 5-40 years; life in prison if the drugs were responsible for death or a serious injury.
- Fine of up to $2 million for an individual; up to $5 million where the defendant is a non-individual.
- Fines double to $4 million and $10 million, respectively, in a case where a death or serious bodily injury occurs.
A person who is convicted of this type of offense cannot be granted probation or have his or her sentence suspended. Parole is not an option for these offenders, as well. However, people's opinions are changing, and many states have decriminalized pot or have allowed medical marijuana usage.
Legal Status of Pot in the UK
On January 29, 2004, cannabis was reclassified from a class B to a Class C drug. Class C is reserved for substances with an accepted medical use, such as steroids, anti-depressants, and some tranquilizers.
Five years later, cannabis was reclassified as a Class B substance on January 26, 2009.
Note: it's illegal to possess or cultivate the plants. However, if you're caught with cannabis, police can give you an official warning, rather than cautioning or charging you with an offense.
You can be arrested if:
- You are publicly smoking.
- You've previously offended or been given a warning.
- You are aged 17 or under.
- You are close to schools or other "youth premises."
The maximum penalty for possession is five years, while those convicted of supplying cannabis can face up to 14 years in prison.
Legal Status of Weed in Canada
In Canada, marijuana possession and distribution falls under the provisions of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Possession of a small amount of marijuana (up to 30 grams) or hashish (1 gram or less) means the accused is subject to the following penalties:
- Six months in jail, or
- $1,000 fine.
For possession of a larger amount of weed, the penalties for a first offense are the same as listed above for a first offense. For a second or subsequent offense, the penalties increase to the following levels:
- One year in jail, or
- $2,000 fine.
The judge hearing the case also has the option of imposing a sentence of a fine and imprisonment if he or she deems that it is appropriate.