Pubdate: Sun, 16 Dec 2001
Source: Sunday Times (UK)
Copyright: 2001 Times Newspapers Ltd.
Subject: Study finds no cannabis link to hard drugs

CANNABIS does not lead to the use of hard drugs, a study will say this 
week. The survey, based on drug users in Amsterdam over a 10-year period, 
will be seized upon by advocates of more liberal laws in Britain, writes 
David Smith.

It shows that cannabis users typically start using the drug between the 
ages of 18 and 20, while cocaine use usually starts between 20 and 25. But 
it concludes that cannabis is not a stepping stone to using cocaine or heroin.

The study, by Jan van Ours of Tilburg University in the Netherlands, will 
be published by the Centre for Economic Policy Research in London.

Four surveys, covering nearly 17,000 people, were carried out in Amsterdam 
in 1987, 1990, 1994 and 1997. Amsterdam has 5,000 hard drug users, 3,000 of 
them non-Dutch nationals, among its population of 700,000 and a much larger 
proportion of cannabis users. There are 300 "coffee shops" in the city 
where cannabis is freely available.

The study claims that most of the evidence that cannabis is a gateway to 
the use of harder drugs is circumstantial. It found that there was little 
difference in the probability of an individual taking up cocaine as to 
whether or not he or she had used cannabis. "The gateway effect of cannabis 
with respect to cocaine is limited," it concludes. Although significant 
numbers of people in the survey did use soft and hard drugs, this was 
linked with personal characteristics and a predilection to experimentation.

"It is clear from this study that the liberal attitude towards soft drugs 
does not have the detrimental effect of eventually stimulating the 
consumption of hard drugs," van Ours said.

The debate about legalising or decriminalising cannabis has intensified in 
recent weeks. In October David Blunkett, the home secretary, told the home 
affairs committee that he was reclassifying cannabis so that possession of 
it would no longer be an arrestable offence.

Keith Hellawell, the government's former drugs czar, attacked the decision, 
insisting that every heroin user was a former user of cannabis.

The government is still proceeding cautiously on cannabis. Last week, in 
response to a Lords report on the therapeutic use of cannabis, it called 
for further research into the benefits.
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