Pubdate: Fri, 20 Jul 2007
Source: Argus, The (UK)
Copyright: 2007 Newsquest Media Group
Author: Miles Godfrey
Bookmark: (Cannabis - United Kingdom)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


Prime Minister Gordon Brown has announced a review of the
classification of cannabis. Returning it from class C to class B,
which it was until three years ago, would effectively make possession
of the drug an arrestable offence once again. A significant number of
MPs, including one from Sussex, admit they have used the drug in the
past. Some are now backing moves to reintroduce tougher penalties for
having cannabis. MILES GODFREY reports.

Francis Maude says it was hard to go through Cambridge in the
Seventies without using cannabis a few times.

The Horsham Tory is one of a growing number of MPs who have admitted
dabbling with the drug. But he supports a move to reintroduce tougher
penalties for those who use it.

He said: "I think it should be reclassified because it is, I have
heard, much stronger nowadays. But there is also far more known about
its damaging effect on health today and for that reason I think we
should reclassify it.

"I think reclassification would send out a signal that there are
harsher penalties available to the courts to deal with cannabis users."

Mr Maude spoke out after Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced yet
another review of the cannabis issue. advertisement

The Government's advisory committee on the misuse of drugs is to
consider whether powerful new strains of cannabis mean it should be
moved back to class B.

It was downgraded to class C in 2004 after a review requested by David
Blunkett when he was Home Secretary.

At the time it was believed the move would allow police to concentrate
on tackling high-classification substances such as heroin and cocaine,
while allowing medical experts the time and resources to tackle the
underlying issues of cannabis abuse.

There is evidence that cannabis use, particularly among young people,
has dropped slightly in the intervening years. However, there remains
serious concern over the proliferation of mental illness and other
debilitating conditions caused by use of the drug.

In Britain, an estimated 500,000 people a year are affected by
cannabis induced illnesses, according to the NHS.

That figure has remained more or less constant since the year 2000,
which suggests that regrading the drug had little effect. It is a view
shared by Rethink, the national mental health organisation, which
believes cannabis should remain as class C.

A Sussex spokesman for the group said: "The experiences of our members
tell us that re-introducing tougher criminal penalties for possession
and use would do nothing to reduce use. Most people who have
experienced the misery of developing mental illness from using
cannabis want to see a properly funded health campaign, not harsher
laws that end up criminalising people who have developed a health problem."

Chris Baldwin, 57, a lifetime user of cannabis and former manager of a
cannabis cafe in Worthing, agrees it should not be a class B drug. He
says the latest proposals are simply a Government attempt at headline
grabbing which will have little or no effect.

Father-of-one Mr Baldwin, a fierce advocate of legalising cannabis,
served six months in jail for his part in running the cafe.

He said more needs to be done to tackle the underlying issues
surrounding cannabis.

Mr Baldwin, who suffered crippling injury as a child, said: "I use it
to treat my legs and I've never had anything better on prescription or
otherwise. It just works for me. Trying to reclassify it is just
another knee-jerk reaction and whether it is class C or class B it
will make little difference.

"What about alcohol? So many problems are caused by alcohol abuse but
little is done to stop the use of alcohol. People talk about psychosis
being caused by cannabis but there are plenty of other drugs,
prescription drugs, which do more damage.

"I'm in agreement that we should stop young people from using
cannabis. I wouldn't want my children to use it. But the Government
needs to address the underlying issues rather than just talk about

They set up committees with anti-cannabis people but they never talk
to the people like me who have been using the drug for years.

"I'm obviously against reclassifying cannabis to class B because I
want to see it legalised. The reality is if people want to get hold of
it, they always have been able to and they always will be able to."

Worthing West MP Peter Bottomley, like a number of other MPs in the
county, denies ever smoking cannabis. He is broadly in favour of
reclassification to class B.

He said: "Whatever the classification is, there has to be a drastic
reduction in the number of people who are using this drug.

"I'm too old to have been part of the permissive society so I'm not
speaking from a position of experience. But I would say cannabis usage
is not a good thing and we should be working towards its

While almost all of Sussex MPs deny trying cannabis, more high-profile
Cabinet ministers have freely admitted taking it.

Yesterday, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith and Home Office minister Tony
McNulty admitted they once smoked cannabis as did Chancellor Alistair
Darling, Communities Secretary Hazel Blears and Ruth Kelly, the
Transport Secretary. They defended their right to make the admissions
and said taking the drug was a "mistake".

Doubts remain over whether Tory leader David Cameron has used drugs
after he refused to comment on claims he was disciplined at Eton for
smoking cannabis.

A Sussex spokesman for Frank, the Government's anti-drug organisation,
said: "It doesn't help when high-profile figures confirm drug usage."
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake