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By Hempology | May 10, 2008

Thu, 8 May 2008
Times, The (UK)


Cannabis will be upgraded to a Class B drug next year even though the head of the Government’s advisory body says that the change is neither warranted nor likely to achieve the desired effect.

Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, announced the reversal yesterday of the Government’s earlier decision to downgrade the drug.  But under18s caught with it will not be treated any more harshly, to avoid criminalising them.

Punishment for the over18s will increase from the existing “confiscate and warning” for a first offence to a possible penalty notice for disorder on a second offence followed by arrest and prosecution for a third offence.

Although the new jail term for possession rises from two to five years, it is unlikely that anyone will be imprisoned for simple possession of cannabis for personal use.  But extra years are to be added to jail sentences handed out to those caught dealing in hospitals, schools, universities and prisons.

The tougher punishments are to be introduced after the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, the Government’s official body, was told of patients in psychiatric hospitals ordering drugs by telephone and having them delivered within 15 minutes.

Reclassification will not take effect until early next year because Parliament has to approve the decision.

A report from the advisory council concluded that the health dangers from cannabis did not justify its inclusion in the higher category and that it should remain a Class C drug.  Professor Sir Michael Rawlins, chairman of the council, said: “Changing the classification of cannabis is neither warranted nor will it achieve the desired effect.”

The report said that scientific evidence pointed to a “probable, but weak, causal link between psychotic illness, including schizophrenia, and cannabis use”.  However, it added that in the population as a whole, the drug played only a “modest role” in the development of these conditions.

Ms Smith said that the Government was overruling the council because she was unwilling to “risk the future health of young people”.  She told MPs: “Where there is a clear and serious problem, but doubt about the harm that will be caused, we must err on the side of caution and protect the public.  I make no apology for that – I am not prepared to wait and see.”

The Home Secretary said she was concerned about the mental health effects of smoking super-strength skunk cannabis, which now accounts for 81 per cent of cannabis seized on the streets.  There were also suggestions that young people were “binge smoking” to get the maximum high.

Ms Smith accepted the remaining 20 recommendations from the advisory council, including a concerted public health campaign to reduce the widespread use of cannabis, a renewed focus on preventing youngsters starting to use the drug and clear advice for parents on what to do if their children are found with an illegal drug.

The council’s report also called for curbs on shops that sell cannabis paraphernalia, such as pipes.

Sir Michael said that the Government was free to accept or reject expert advice.  “It really has to be tackled as a public health problem not a criminal justice problem.  This is not a criticism of the Prime Minister and Home Secretary.  All politicans tend to think there must be a criminal justice solution to it.  It is more complicated and subtle that that.”

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