Pubdate: Tue, 27 Jan 2009
Source: Scotsman (UK)
Copyright: 2009 The Scotsman Publications Ltd
Author: Martyn McLaughlin
Bookmark: (Cannabis - United Kingdom)


CANNABIS laws have been left in disarray following the UK 
government's decision to upgrade the drug to a Class B substance, 
critics warned yesterday. Despite plans for a new "three strikes" 
regime whereby police can hand out on-the-spot penalties to anyone 
caught with cannabis, users will be able to escape the fines because 
of parliamentary delays.

Furthermore, the changes will also have little impact in Scotland, 
where police forces will not follow any system of graded warnings.

Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, decided to move the drug from Class 
C to Class B last year, because of fears of the impact of stronger 
strains of "skunk" on the mental health of young people. It reversed 
a decision in 2004 by her predecessor, David Blunkett, to downgrade cannabis.

Under the new regime, police in England and Wales should issue a 
warning to anyone caught with cannabis for a first offence, and give 
second-time offenders an UKP 80 fine and a penalty notice. Anyone 
with a third "strike" will be arrested and could face an unlimited 
fine and a prison sentence of up to five years.

Alan Campbell, the Home Office minister, warned that the average age 
of first-time cannabis users was now 13, and said the new system 
would help protect "future generations".

The order in parliament making cannabis use an offence punishable 
with a penalty notice for disorder was scheduled to pass last week. 
It was bundled with a group of 21 other offences, including mini-cab 
drivers hawking for business.

But because of opposition to some of the changes, especially among 
magistrates concerned about taking offences away from the courts 
system, the package of measures was withdrawn for consultation, the 
Ministry of Justice said.

It has also emerged that not all police forces in England and Wales 
will record cannabis warnings, meaning that repeat offenders could 
escape fines or prosecution. A system for recording all cautions is 
not due to be introduced until next year.

In Scotland, meanwhile, police forces will abide by the policy laid 
down by the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland (Acpos), 
which has remained constant since 2004 and sees everyone found in 
possession of cannabis reported to the procurator-fiscal.

Detective Superintendent Willie MacColl, national drugs co-ordinator 
for the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency, said: "Policing 
in Scotland has taken a coherent and consistent approach to the issue 
of cannabis throughout the past four years.

"In 2004, when cannabis was reclassified by the UK government 
downwards from B to C, Acpos confirmed its intention to conduct 
business as normal and continue to report those found in possession 
of cannabis to the procurator-fiscal.

"Given the decision by the Home Secretary to reclassify upwards, 
Acpos has considered their policing response and decided that, as in 
2004, such a move would not result in any changes of policy. Those 
found in possession of cannabis would continue to be reported."

Brian Paddick, the former deputy assistant commissioner of the 
Metropolitan Police and London mayoral candidate, said changing the 
classification of cannabis would make little difference to the number 
of people using it, but Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of the 
mental health charity Sane, welcomed the upgrade, saying that for 
some people, cannabis use could double the chance of developing 
severe mental illness.


THE UK government's decision to reclassify the drug from class C to B 
is largely influenced by research linking heavy use of the stronger 
and increasingly widespread "skunk" strain of cannabis with mental illness.

Five years ago, the then home secretary, David Blunkett, downgraded 
the drug to class C based on findings from the Advisory Council on 
the Misuse of Drugs. However, a Lancet study in 2007 found that 
cannabis use increased the risk of schizophrenia by at least 40 per cent.

Other research suggests an active chemical in the drug inhibits 
psychotic symptoms in people with schizophrenia, while another 
chemical may increase the disease's symptoms. 
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