HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Reclassifying Cannabis Would Make No Difference to Young
Pubdate: Sun, 6 Jan 2008
Source: Independent on Sunday (UK)
Copyright: Independent Newspapers Ltd.
Author: Jonathan Owen
Bookmark: (Cannabis - United Kingdom)


Experts say that the vast majority of teenagers get the drug from 
their friends, writes Jonathan Owen

Reclassifying cannabis would be pointless and therefore unlikely to 
make any difference to young users of the drug, according to a new 
report by some of the country's top criminal policy experts.

Cannabis has now become such an important part of youth culture that 
a new generation of users are supplying each other with the drug, 
buying and sharing it with friends and relatives. A team of 
researchers from the Institute for Criminal Policy Research (ICPR) 
led by Professor Mike Hough, a senior adviser to the Home Office, has 
concluded that the "social supply" of cannabis has almost entirely 
cut out traditional drug dealers and therefore needs a new approach. 
Their findings reveal that 90 per cent of young users can get hold of 
cannabis in under a day - with the majority able to get it within an hour.

Almost two-thirds use cannabis at least once a week, spending an 
average of UKP80 a month on the drug. On average, they start taking 
the drug when just 13 years old, and almost all are introduced to it 
by friends or relatives - with just 1 per cent by dealers. Almost 
half (45 per cent) admit to having helped supply cannabis to others; 
43 per cent have taken it at school or college. More than half (54 
per cent) say they use cannabis to relax.

More than 180 cannabis users between 11 and 19 were interviewed by 
researchers, whose findings will be published by the Joseph Rowntree 
Foundation later this month.

These findings come at a critical point in the debate over how to 
tackle Britain's cannabis crisis and will be a blow to medical 
experts and senior police officers who have been leading calls for 
the drug to be reclassified. As part of a government review of drug 
strategy, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs is currently 
considering whether cannabis should revert to being a class B drug - 
three years after it was controversially downgraded to a class C drug 
by the then Home Secretary, David Blunkett - and is due to make its 
recommendation to the Home Office in the spring.

Despite cannabis being Britain's most widely used illegal drug, the 
report is one of the first to have looked at how young people get 
hold of it, and highlights the lack of knowledge that surrounds the 
drug, despite the fact that more than 2.5 million 16- to 24-year-olds 
have used it.

"If we are to do anything about cannabis use and the dangers attached 
to it, then we have to understand it better. Children are buying it 
in groups, often from friends and also older brothers and sisters," 
says Charlie Lloyd, principal research manager at the Joseph Rowntree 
Foundation. "Many of the young people have supplied the drug to their 
friends, not in a drug-dealing sense but more in a not-for-profit way 
- - almost like an informal cooperative between friends."

Researchers found that almost all young cannabis users are introduced 
to the drug by friends, with only 6 per cent saying that they buy 
from unknown sellers. Professor Hough, who is director of the ICPR, 
says: "While the public stereotype of the drug dealer may be of an 
adult stranger 'pushing' drugs to young people, in the case of 
cannabis this is very rarely the case.

"Most young people get their cannabis from other young people - often 
without a profit being made. Nevertheless, in the eyes of the law 
such transactions represent drug supply offences."

An anonymous account in the report by one young user reveals how 
networks of friends have edged out dealers: "They [the people who 
sell cannabis] are friends from school and also from outside of 
school. We socialise together."

Sharing cannabis is commonplace for 70 per cent of users. Anna (her 
details have been changed) is a 14-year-old who has regularly used 
cannabis for four years. Like many others, she clubs together with 
friends to buy the drug, and describes how they divide it out: 
"Friends were asking and they had given me some before. [I shared] to 
be kind and to give some back."

The report warns that more guidance is needed on dealing with what it 
describes as "offences of social supply of cannabis" and says that 
young people need to be educated about the health risks.

Researchers conclude that "the findings from this and other studies 
show that cannabis use is significantly embedded in the social world 
of many young people. It is unlikely a marginal change in the drug's 
legal status will have an impact."

This comes just weeks after the Association of Chief Police Officers 
(Acpo) announced a U-turn on its previous position, and declared 
itself in favour of seeing cannabis go back to being a class B drug. 
Downgrading cannabis to a class C drug in 2004 has been blamed for 
creating a climate of confusion about the legality of the drug and 
sending mixed messages to young people.
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