Pubdate: Wed, 21 Jan 2004
Source: BBC News (UK Web)
Copyright: 2004 BBC


The British Medical Association has launched a last minute attack on the 
government's decision to downgrade the criminal status of cannabis.

Cannabis is due to be reclassified from a class B to a class C drug next week.

Doctors' leaders said they were "extremely concerned" the move would 
mislead the public into thinking the drug was safe to use.

In fact, it has been linked to greater risk of heart disease, lung cancer, 
bronchitis and emphysema, they said.

Dr Peter Maguire, deputy chairman of the BMA's board of science, welcomed a 
new government campaign to highlight the dangers of cannabis.

But he said: "The public must be made aware of the harmful effects that we 
know result from smoking this drug.

"The BMA is extremely concerned that the public might think that 
reclassification equals 'safe'. It does not.

"We are very worried about the negative health effects of smoking cannabis 
and want the government to fund more research on this issue."

'Astonishingly High'

The mental health charity Rethink is calling for clear health warnings to 
be issued over the increased risk of developing schizophrenia, and other 
forms of psychosis, from cannabis use.

Rethink chief executive Cliff Prior said: "There is a strongly-held view 
that cannabis is risk-free, reflected in the astonishingly high rates of 
use amongst young people as the street drug of choice.

"Cannabis is not risk free. We have known for years that using cannabis 
makes the symptoms of schizophrenia far worse in people who already have 
the illness.

"Now there is a rapidly growing body of evidence showing that cannabis can 
trigger schizophrenia in people already at risk."

Aggravated Situations

When it is downgraded, possession of cannabis will no longer be treated as 
an arrestable offence in most cases.

The drug will be treated as equivalent to bodybuilding steroids and some 

Police will retain the power to arrest users in certain aggravated 
situations, such as when the drug is smoked outside schools.

But officers will stop targeting those using cannabis in their own home.

Some drugs campaigners have criticised the move, saying it will encourage 
more youngsters to try the drug.

Focus On Hard Drugs

But Home Secretary David Blunkett has said the change in the law is 
necessary to enable police to spend more time tackling class A drugs such 
as heroin and crack cocaine.

At present, about 80,000 adults a year are currently arrested and fined for 
possession of cannabis.

Research has found that the drug is far more harmful to health than smoking 
ordinary cigarettes, with more tar and harmful chemicals taken into the body.

Around 120,000 people die every year in the UK from smoking ordinary 

A UKP1m government campaign is to underline the message that cannabis will 
remain illegal despite the change in the law.

Millions of leaflets will be handed out while newspapers and radio stations 
will carry adverts which warn the drug is harmful to health.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman