Pubdate: Sun, 15 May 2005
Source: Sunday Times (UK)
Copyright: 2005 Times Newspapers Ltd.
Author: David Leppard
Bookmark: (Cannabis - United Kingdom)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


GOVERNMENT advisers are likely to reject a tougher line on cannabis despite 
mounting concerns about the drug's potential dangers and reservations by 
Tony Blair and the home secretary.

The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs will meet this week to decide 
whether to review new evidence suggesting cannabis can cause mental illness.

Before the election Charles Clarke asked the committee to reassess the 
government's decision 16 months ago to downgrade crimes involving cannabis. 
Both Clarke and Tony Blair are understood to regret the decision, which 
coincided with an influx of stronger strains of the drug to Britain.

However, a leading member of the committee said last week he would be "very 
surprised" if it decided to urge a reversal.The Rev Martin Blakeborough, 
who runs the Kaleidoscope drug abuse charity in Kingston, west London, said 
the committee had already made its decision when it recommended in 2001 
that penalties for using the drug be reclassified from category B to 
category C.

Blakeborough said there would need to be "an awful lot" of new evidence to 
convince the committee. "I would be extremely surprised if anything were to 
happen in terms of change," he said.

Blakeborough added that senior police were in favour of the relaxed laws. 
Officers were issued with guidelines saying that possession in small 
quantities for personal use should no longer lead to an arrest. Arrests for 
cannabis possession halved in the first year of the relaxed regime, freeing 
up officers' time to deal with other crimes.

Lord Adebowale, another committee member and chief executive of Turning 
Point, a drugs charity, is also said to be skeptical about tougher 
penalties. He has said any decision to review the drug's status should be 
based on "clear, hard facts and not conjecture".

However, Blair has told colleagues that he is "dead set" against the 
decision to downgrade the drug. Before the election he told parents there 
was increasing medical evidence that cannabis was "not quite as harmless as 
people make out".

Concerns have also risen among mental health professionals. A study by the 
Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London suggests that one in four 
people carries genes that increase vulnerability to psychotic illnesses if 
he or she smokes cannabis as a teenager.

Majorie Wallace, head of the mental health charity Sane, has warned that 
cannabis places millions of users at risk of lasting mental illness.

Some who supported downgrading cannabis are now reconsidering. Rosie 
Boycott, the former newspaper editor, wrote yesterday she had begun to have 
second thoughts after hearing of young people suffering mental illness 
after taking cannabis, particularly skunk, an extra-strong form of the drug.

In one case, told to her at a dinner party, "what was beyond doubt for 
these three boys was that skunk had caused a dramatic, sudden and very 
distressing change in their personalities".
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