Pubdate: Thu, 10 Mar 2016
Source: Birmingham Post (UK)
Copyright: 2016 Trinity Mirror plc
Author: Jonathan Walker


LIBERAL Democrats say there's a case for setting up cannabis shops 
allowing people to buy the drug in their local high street.

But how many people in the West Midlands take cannabis or other drugs 
- - and is drug use rising or falling?

Here's what the official figures tell us about drug use in the West Midlands.

In the West Midlands, 6.9 per cent of the population aged 16 to 59 
say they have taken cannabis at least once last year. That's about 
one in 15 people. It's about the same as the national average.

The biggest stoners in the country are in the South West region, 
where 8.3 per cent of the population say they use cannabis. This 
region includes Somerset, home of the Glastonbury festival, so 
perhaps it's no surprise.

But the most clean-living region in the country is the East Midlands, 
where 5.4 per cent of the population have taken cannabis last year.

The figures come from the British Crime Survey, which involves 
officials simply asking a representative sample of people about their 

So it's clearly hard to tell how accurate they are, but they're the 
best guide to the nation's drugs habits that we have.

The same survey is used to tell us whether crime is rising or 
falling, because respondents are asked whether they have been victims of crime.

It may be worth noting that this is generally considered to be more 
reliable than the crime numbers reported by police. So while the 
survey probably isn't perfect, it is an official set of numbers used 
by the Government to work out what's going on in our society.

Cannabis use is down in the West Midlands. As noted above, 6.9 per 
cent of people aged 16 to 59 say they have used it over the year  but 
when people were asked the same question ten years ago the figure was 
eight per cent.

It's possible that this has something to do with the easy 
availability of so-called "legal highs" such as the drug spice, which 
could be bought openly in shops (although the manufacturers and 
shop-keepers had to say they weren't for human consumption in order 
to stay within the law).

A law which is supposed to ban spice and other "synthetic 
cannabinoids" comes into force in April.

Almost in 1 in 50 people aged 16 to 59 in the West Midlands, 1.9 per 
cent, say they took powdered cocaine last year.

And one per cent, or one in 100 people, took ecstasy, a drug that was 
popular in the 1990s.

Just 0.2 per cent took amphetamines, sometimes known as speed or 
whiz. Back in 1996 this figure was 3.1 per cent.

Like ecstasy, amphetamines were sometimes used by young people 
attending all night outdoor parties or raves in the 1990s.

And 8.8 per cent of the population aged 16 to 59 in the West Midlands 
say they used some sort of drug last year, about one in 11 people.

This includes cocaine, crack cocaine, ecstasy, LSD, magic mushrooms, 
ketamine, heroin, methadone, amphetamines, methamphetamine, cannabis, 
tranquillisers, anabolic steroids, amyl nitrite and any what the Home 
Office calls "any other pills/powders/drugs smoked".

And yes, it's true that alcohol and tobacco are drugs but are not 
included in the figures.

The Liberal Democrats say their proposals could raise UKP1 billion 
for the Treasury by ensuring sales of cannabis are properly taxed, 
potentially boosting funding for our schools or the NHS.

But not everyone agrees that selling cannabis in the high street is a 
good idea.

The Police and Crime Commissioner for the West Midlands, Labour 
politician David Jamieson, said: "It is a mind-changing drug that has 
an impact on mental health. I wouldn't support these proposals." The 
Lib Dem ideas include:

Allowing the sale of cannabis to over 18s from specialist, licensed 
retail stores, in plain packaging with clear health and risk 
reduction information.

Allowing home-cultivation cannabis (ie, growing plants home) for personal use

Allowing small scale, cannabis social clubs

A new regulator to oversee the market

Regulation around the price, potency and packaging of cannabis 
available from retailers, with policy informed by evidence and best 
practice in tobacco and alcohol regulation.

The proposals are not yet Lib Dem party policy. They were drawn up by 
a panel of experts who were commissioned by the Lib Dems to consider 
whether changes to the way we deal with cannabis were needed.

Their findings will now be put to the party's spring conference in 
York, and could become party policy.

Lib Dem leader Tim Farron said: "Prohibition of cannabis has failed. 
We need a new, smarter approach.

"It is waste of police time to go after young people using cannabis 
and ludicrous to saddle them with criminal convictions that can 
damage their future careers. A legal market would allow us to have 
more control over what is sold, and raise a considerable amount in taxation.

"I have always said that we must have an evidence led approach to 
drugs law reform, and this report should be taken seriously. Britain 
has to end our failed war on drugs. The status quo causes huge damage 
and we urgently need reform."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom