Pubdate: Sun, 18 Mar 2007
Source: Independent on Sunday (UK)
Copyright: Independent Newspapers (UK) Ltd.
Author: Jonathan Owen
Bookmark: (Cannabis - United Kingdom)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


In 1997, this newspaper launched a campaign to decriminalise the
drug. If only we had known then what we can reveal today...

Record numbers of teenagers are requiring drug treatment as a result
of smoking skunk, the highly potent cannabis strain that is 25 times
stronger than resin sold a decade ago.

More than 22,000 people were treated last year for cannabis addiction
- - and almost half of those affected were under 18. With doctors and
drugs experts warning that skunk can be as damaging as cocaine and
heroin, leading to mental health problems and psychosis for thousands
of teenagers, The Independent on Sunday has today reversed its
landmark campaign for cannabis use to be decriminalised.

A decade after this newspaper's stance culminated in a 16,000-strong
pro-cannabis march to London's Hyde Park - and was credited with
forcing the Government to downgrade the legal status of cannabis to
class C - an IoS editorial states that there is growing proof that
skunk causes mental illness and psychosis.

The decision comes as statistics from the NHS National Treatment
Agency show that the number of young people in treatment almost
doubled from about 5,000 in 2005 to 9,600 in 2006, and that 13,000
adults also needed treatment.

The skunk smoked by the majority of young Britons bears no relation to
traditional cannabis resin - with a 25-fold increase in the amount of
the main psychoactive ingredient, tetrahydrocannabidinol (THC),
typically found in the early 1990s. New research being published in
this week's Lancet will show how cannabis is more dangerous than LSD
and ecstasy. Experts analysed 20 substances for addictiveness, social
harm and physical damage. The results will increase the pressure on
the Government to have a full debate on drugs, and a new independent
UK drug policy commission being launched next month will call for a
rethink on the issue.

The findings last night reignited the debate about cannabis use, with
a growing number of specialists saying that the drug bears no relation
to the substance most law-makers would recognise. Professor Colin
Blakemore, chief of the Medical Research Council, who backed our
original campaign for cannabis to be decriminalised, has also changed
his mind.

He said: "The link between cannabis and psychosis is quite clear now;
it wasn't 10 years ago."

Many medical specialists agree that the debate has changed. Robin
Murray, professor of psychiatry at London's Institute of Psychiatry,
estimates that at least 25,000 of the 250,000 schizophrenics in the UK
could have avoided the illness if they had not used cannabis. "The
number of people taking cannabis may not be rising, but what people
are taking is much more powerful, so there is a question of whether a
few years on we may see more people getting ill as a consequence of

"Society has seriously underestimated how dangerous cannabis really
is," said Professor Neil McKeganey, from Glasgow University's Centre
for Drug Misuse Research. "We could well see over the next 10 years
increasing numbers of young people in serious difficulties."

Politicians have also hardened their stance. David Cameron, the
Conservative leader, has changed his mind over the classification of
cannabis, after backing successful calls to downgrade the drug from B
to C in 2002. He abandoned that position last year, before the IoS
revealed that he had smoked cannabis as a teenager, and now wants the
drug's original classification to be restored.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake