HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Medical Advisers Back Cannabis Reform
Pubdate: Thu, 14 Mar 2002
Source: BBC News (UK Web)
Copyright: 2002 BBC
Bookmark: (Cannabis)


Cannabis is smoked by millions in the UK Cannabis should be downgraded to a 
Class C drug, a government-commissioned report has recommended.

If ministers accept the advice users could be free to smoke it in public 
without fear of arrest.

Medical experts at the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) said 
the current classification of cannabis alongside substances like 
amphetamines was "disproportionate" to its harmfulness.

A decision on the recommendations will be made after a Home Affairs select 
committee report on drugs strategy and a review of a pilot project in 
Lambeth, south London. Both are due by Easter.

The prime minister's official spokesman said that while Home Secretary 
David Blunkett had said he was "minded" to re-classify cannabis "there are 
no plans for decriminalisation or legalisation".

Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith said downgrading or decriminalising cannabis 
would be an ill-thought out solution to a complex problem.

During a visit to Langdon College in Salford he said: "Anybody who knows 
about the difficulties in communities, about young people who are trying 
drugs and moving on to harder drugs, knows it is far more complex than that."

'Few Health Risks'

ACMD chairman Professor Sir Michael Rawlins said his report was not saying 
cannabis was harmless.

"Cannabis is associated with some risks of health but the council concludes 
that these are less than the risks posed by other Class B drugs such as 
amphetamine," he said.

The report found the use of cannabis, which has risen sharply over the past 
20 years, does not cause any major health problems and rarely causes 
serious illness in previously healthy people.

However, even occasional use posed significant dangers for people with 
mental health problems including schizophrenia and those with poor 
circulation or heart conditions.

But both groups were still at greater risk from amphetamines.

The report said it was impossible to say if cannabis users became addicted 
or whether they were likely to progress to harder drugs.


The findings were welcomed by Roger Howard, chief executive of the charity 

He said: "It is refreshing to have a Home Secretary who is at last willing 
to open up the debate on drugs and consider moving towards a more logical 
and pragmatic drugs policy."

Mr Howard rejected claims it would lead to an increase in drug use and said 
he hoped the report would help end prosecution of people found with small 
amounts of cannabis.

But Paul Betts, father of 18-year-old ecstasy victim Leah Betts, said the 
government had reneged on its promises to be hard on drugs.

He said: "This is the start of the slippery slope. They are scared to say 
it's dangerous."

The publication of the report follows last weekend's vote by the Liberal 
Democrats to support the legalisation of cannabis.

Delegates also voted to end imprisonment for the possession of any illegal 
drug - including heroin and cocaine - and backed the downgrading of ecstasy 
from a Class A to a Class B drug.

Drugs Monitor

David Blunkett commissioned the ACMD study last October.

The ACMD monitors the state of drugs use and misuse in the UK and was set 
up under the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act.

Drugs are classified as Class A, B or C according to harm they may cause.

Cannabis is a Class B drug, the same category as other substances including 
amphetamines and growth hormones.

Recent studies suggest that cannabis use has risen sharply since the early 
seventies, especially among those in the 20 to 24 age group.
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