Pubdate: Fri, 26 Oct 2001
Source: Eastern Daily Press (UK)
Copyright: 2001 Eastern Counties Newspapers Group Ltd
Author: Shaun Lowthorpe


Cannabis has a funny effect on people - frowned upon officially, it is 
widely enjoyed as a recreational drug and many others take if for medical 

We all know it and yet the law prevents us from saying so openly if we want 
to avoid arrset.  Rolling up makes you a criminal in the UK.

David Blunkett indicated on Tuesday that he wanted to reclassify the drug 
from class B to C as part of a package to concentrate fully stretched 
police resources on hard drugs such as heroin and cocaine.

Typically the announcement provoked the wrath of the anti-drug lobby and 
the praise of the legalisers amid visions that dutch-style cannabis cafes 
would spring up over here.

Long associated with the 60's era of free love and peace, the drug has been 
the subject of clinical research by Dr Willy Notcutt at the James Paget 
Hospital in Gorleston to assess its benefits as a pain killer.

And the Home Secretary hinted that under the proposals the drug might be 
licensed to treat illnesses such as multiple sclerosis.

But Dr Notcutt said the move is likely to have greater repercussions beyond 
the surgery.

"In practical terms it is a completely different issue," he said.  "It is 
far more significant in its social context and what it says about our society."

yet smoking cannabis would still be a crime even if the measures become law.

Put simply, anybody caught using it faces a maximum jail sentence of two 
years instead of five.  Dealers will how be locked away for a maximum of 
five years instead of 14.

But cannabis supporters sense the goal of legalisation is within sight.

Tina Smith, treasurer of the Norwich-based Campaign to Legalise Cannabis 
International Association (CLCIA) believes the announcement has prompted a 
proper debate on the subject

"I think it is an excellent move but it still doesn't go far enough. we 
still want full legalisation," she said.  "I am hoping it's a cultural 
shift because at the moment people are still being arrested and made into 

Norwich North MP Ian Gibson, who is currently supporting a Private Member's 
Bill allowing cannabis to be smoked in licensed cafes, agreed.

"I think that the general public are way ahead of the legislation - in 
terms of the benefits they see in having some cannabis," he said.

"It will be welcomes by many people including the police," he said. "It 
will mean in medical terms and in terms of police time a complete loosening 
up of what were always antiquated laws."

But he added that changes in attitude would not happen overnight.

"I think there is still a huge number of people who are convinced that it 
leads to heroin or other drugs and only in terms of what happens in the 
next five years will their doubts be dispelled."

South West Norfolk MP Gillian Sheppard, president of Norcas, an alcohol and 
drugs advisory group, urged a more cautious approach based on facts and not 

"I don't disagree that the public is ahead but that doesn't make it right," 
she said.

"I still think that we need areal and proper look before any steps are taken.

"What we need to know is what the effect of easier access to cannabis has 
to the use of hard drugs."

And not all police officers share the official view that the changes are a 
positive move.

PC Ray Swain, a school liaison officer in North Norfolk, gives talks to 
children and parents about drugs.

He said: "I have spoken to a group of recovering addicts about this and 
none of those people think it is a good idea.  I just find it odd that we 
spend millions of pounds a year trying to discourage people smoking tobacco 
but we are thinking about making more attractive something that has four 
times the amount of tar.

"They are still going to have to go to dealers to buy it and people who 
deal in cannabis will often deal in other drugs."

And he said that supporters had hijacked the medical argument about the 
drugs benefits to further their aims.

"If that's the case why don't we extract those parts and make it into a 
medicine like they do with other drugs - why do people have to smoke it?"
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart