Pubdate: Wed, 24 Oct 2001
Source: Daily Telegraph (UK)
Copyright: 2001 Telegraph Group Limited
Author: Philip Johnston, Telegraph Home Affairs Editor


POSSESSING cannabis will no longer be an arrestable offence after a 
reversal of Government policy made public last night by David Blunkett, the 
Home Secretary.

Cannabis is to be recategorised early in the New Year from a Class B drug 
to Class C, putting it on a par with anabolic steroids and anti-depressants 
such as Temazepam.

While possession will still be illegal, penalties will be much lower - with 
a maximum of two years' jail - and most users caught by police will get 
away with nothing worse than a warning.

It is only a few months since the Government emphatically rejected 
recommendations from the Police Foundation that cannabis should be given a 
lower classification.

However, Mr Blunkett said the change - which needs to be approved by the 
Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs - should be made in the interests 
of "consistency and credibility".

He also said the Government would allow cannabis to be used for medical 
purposes once successful clinical trials have been completed.

MS sufferers welcomed the proposals. The drug has long been said to 
alleviate pain among those with multiple sclerosis and is the subject of a 
nationwide trial.

Kate Bradley, of Telford, Shropshire, was diagnosed in 1991 and said she 
regularly had to go on to the streets to find dealers. Mrs Bradley, who is 
in her 50s, said: "This is a very big step forward and welcome news.

"Cannabis is the most effective pain reliever and meaning I may not be 
arrested for having it takes enormous pressure off my mind." Mr Blunkett 
also announced plans to extend the prescribing of heroin by doctors to 
thousands of registered addicts.

Mr Blunkett said the new strategy would run in parallel with much tougher 
police activity against dealers in hard drugs and alongside an education 
programme to raise awareness among young people of the dangers of heroin 
and cocaine.

"We need to warn young people that all drugs are dangerous but Class A 
drugs are the most harmful," he told the Commons home affairs select 
committee. Mr Blunkett said reclassifying cannabis would "be quite 
different from decriminalisation or legislation".

He added: "Cannabis would remain a controlled drug and using it a criminal 
offence. It would not detract from the simple message that all drugs are 
harmful and no one should take drugs. But it would make clear the 
distinction between cannabis and Class A drugs like heroin and cocaine."

The change will mean that people using cannabis cannot be arrested, though 
the drug could be confiscated and a formal warning issued. Such a system 
has been operated in Lambeth, south London, for several months.

Police will be consulted over developing a consistent approach. They could 
follow the London model of confiscation combined with a warning; or they 
could issue summonses that would result in a criminal conviction. Supplying 
the drug will remain an arrestable offence.

Sir John Stevens, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, welcomed the 
change: "It is sensible to target our resources against dealers."

However, Peter Lilley, the former Tory Cabinet minister who earlier this 
year called for the decriminalisation of cannabis, said Mr Blunkett had not 
gone far enough.

"As long as it remains illegal and can only be obtained from criminal 
sources, then users - mainly young people - are being exposed to the 
pushers of hard drugs."

Mike Goodman, director of Release, a national drug and alcohol advice 
charity, said society had finally grown up. "I think this is the first step 
towards decriminalisation."
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