Pubdate: Thu, 8 May 2008
Source: Daily Mail (UK)
Copyright: 2008 Associated Newspapers Ltd
Author: James Slack and Matthew Hickley
Bookmark: (Cannabis - United Kingdom)


Four years of pressure to toughen the law on cannabis paid off
yesterday as the Government finally announced the drug would be

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith promised the move would protect the
"future health" of a generation of vulnerable youngsters.

In restoring the drug to Class B status, the Government overruled the
advice of its own scientists.

But Miss Smith faced criticism after admitting the U-turn would make
no difference to the way under-18s caught with cannabis are treated by

They will continue to be given a reprimand, followed by a final
warning and will face prosecution only if caught a third time.

Critics said it meant there was no new deterrent to a youngster
thinking of trying the drug.

For adults, instead of returning to a policy of anyone caught with the
drug normally facing arrest, Miss Smith announced a system of
"escalating" punishments.

Offenders are likely to receive a warning, followed by an UKP80 on the
spot fine, before being prosecuted.

Anybody who is prosecuted for cannabis possession will face increased
penalties as a result of the upgrade from Class C to Class B.

The maximum jail term rises from two years to five.

The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, in its third review of
cannabis policy in only six years, had played down the risks to health
and wanted to wait two more years for harder scientific proof of the
link between the stronger cannabis strain known as skunk and mental

But the Home Secretary, supported by Gordon Brown, said: "There is a
compelling case for us to act now, rather than risk the future health
of young people.

"Where there is a clear and serious problem, but doubt about the
potential harm that will be caused, we must err on the side of caution
and protect the public.

"I make no apology for that.

"I am not prepared to wait and see."

But Sir Michael Rawlins, the council chairman, hit back by claiming
reclassification would make "no difference" to the level of cannabis

The council's top scientist, Professor David Nutt, described the move
as "naive", and warned that toughening the law could distract
ministers from the real issues of curbing the harm caused by cannabis.

Campaigners praised the Government for ignoring the council - which
supported Tony Blair's downgrading of the drug to Class C in January

Mr Brown also won plaudits for showing a willingness to act on a
matter of huge public concern.

But there was dismay at the Government's stance on punishments, which
will give most offenders two opportunities to avoid

Shadow Home Secretary David Davis said: "If there will be two slaps on
the wrist before someone breaking the law receives a proper
punishment, this latest Government announcement is just as meaningless
as all the others."

Despite ignoring the experts on reclassification, Miss Smith accepted
every other recommendation in the council's review.

She promised to restrict the sale of drug paraphernalia, such as water
pipes or "bongs".

Cigarette papers will carry health warnings of the dangers of

And selling drugs in colleges, universities, mental hospitals, prisons
and schools will count as an "aggravating" factor, leading to stiffer

There will be a crack down on cannabis farms, which are often run by
young Chinese and Vietnamese "gardeners".

Chief constables yesterday revealed they are now discovering 2,000
cannabis farms a year.

Tim Hollis, of the Association of Chief Police Officers, said:
"Reclassification to Class B will not, in itself, solve the problems
that our communities are experiencing - but it does send a clear
message to young people that this is a dangerous drug.

"Where cannabis use is repeated or where there are aggravating
circumstances, officers will take a harder line on

Acpo - which provoked anger last week by saying it wanted the power to
continue warning offenders - backed the suggestion that penalties
should be "escalating".

The association will hold talks with Miss Smith over the three strikes
system, with proposals to be finalised by the summer.

Despite the council's view, many scientists welcomed the

Professor Robin Murray, of the Institute of Psychiatry, said: "Putting
the classification back to B may send a signal that reverses some of
them damage done by ministers implying that cannabis is safe.

"It puts us back to where we were four years ago.

"However, we smoked even more cannabis then than now. The only thing
that will bring down consumption is education."

Marjorie Wallace, of the mental health charity SANE, also welcomed the
U-turn adding: "We believe there are too many casualties to await the
results of further education and research."

Jason Braham, whose daughter Lucy was murdered by paranoid
schizophrenic and long-term skunk user William Jaggs, said that
reclassifying cannabis was the "only honest thing to do".

Mr Braham, a master at Harrow School, added: "Cannabis is now regarded
as relatively safe and it is anything but. We need to educate children
about the dangers of drugs at the age of 12, 13." 
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