Pubdate: Thu, 8 May 2008
Source: Scotsman (UK)
Copyright: 2008 The Scotsman Publications Ltd
Author: Michael Howie and Ross Lydall
Bookmark: (Cannabis - United Kingdom)


RESTORING cannabis to its former class B status will make "very little
difference" to levels of consumption, one of Scotland's leading drug
experts has warned. Tom Wood, the chairman of the Scottish Association
of Alcohol and Drug Teams, said the move, announced yesterday by the
Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, would fail to have much impact on
consumption among young people.

The decision to upgrade the drug to class B was largely a result of
growing evidence about the damage it can cause to mental health.

Mr Wood, head of Action on Alcohol and Drugs in Edinburgh, said: "It's
time we had a long and hard look at what we're doing. The issue of
cannabis misuse should be addressed from a health perspective, not a
justice perspective. I can see it (reclassification] will make very
little difference either to the use or patterns of

Ms Smith said she was reclassifying the drug because the cannabis
market was now dominated by skunk - which constitutes 81 per cent of
sales - rather than less potent hash or marijuana.

The drug was downgraded in 2004 by the then home secretary, David
Blunkett, on the advice of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs
- - the same organisation whose findings Ms Smith rejected yesterday.

Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister, had earlier made clear his concern
about super-strength cannabis.

Ms Smith told the Commons: "I want it to be clearly understood that
this powerful form of cannabis is an illegal and harmful drug.

"There is a compelling case for us to act now, rather than risk the
future health of young people."

But Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said the
move would cut neither cannabis use nor crime.

He added: "Will she save public money by disbanding the Advisory
Council on the Misuse of Drugs, and establishing a new committee of
tabloid newspaper editors, given that the biggest influence on her
policy is the Daily Mail?"

The move, which will take effect early next year, increases from two
to five years' jail the maximum punishment for possession, but leaves
the penalty for supply at a fine or up to 14 years' jail.

In its report, the advisory council said that cannabis should remain
in class C, because its harmfulness was closer to other drugs in that
category, rather than those in class B.

It said there was a "probable, but weak, causal link between psychotic
illness and cannabis use" and "only a minority" of young people using
cannabis would develop a psychotic illness.

But the council said it was "still very concerned about the wide use
of cannabis among young people" and added: "Although the number of
users have decreased over the past few years, cannabis still poses a
real threat to the health of those who use it."

Scotland's senior police officers said there would be "no change" to
the way they tackle cannabis possession.

Willie McColl, the national drugs co-ordinator at the Scottish Crime
and Drug Enforcement Agency (SCDEA), said police would continue to
report cases of possession to the procurator-fiscal. "Our approach to
tackling drugs, including cannabis, has been consistent and this will
continue," he said.

But he added the police would focus on tackling supply, in particular
the growth of cannabis factories in recent years. 
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