HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Cannabis Reclassified As Class B Drug
Pubdate: Tue, 27 Jan 2009
Source: North West Evening Mail (UK)
Copyright: 2009 CN Group Ltd
Contact:  http://www.nwemail.co.uk/
Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/3661
Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/pot.htm (Cannabis)
Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/youth.htm (Youth)

CANNABIS RECLASSIFIED AS CLASS B DRUG

The government has reclassified cannabis, the UK's most commonly used
drug, from Class C up to Class B.

Cannabis was downgraded to Class C in 2004 because ministers wanted to
free up police time and allow officers to concentrate on tackling harder
drugs.

In switching it back to Class B, the government has gone against its own
expert drug advice body experts – the Advisory Council for the
Misuse of Drugs – which recommended keeping cannabis at Class C.

The government's decision has been taken because skunk, a much stronger
version of the drug, now accounts for 80 per cent of the cannabis
available on the streets, compared to just 30 per cent seven years ago.

The government says it will now raise its efforts to clamp down on
cannabis dealers and users, shut down cannabis farms and arrest the
organised criminals who run them.

A key part of that plan is the decision to raise the maximum penalty for
possessing cannabis from two years in prison to five years.

But, as part of the same plan, the government has invited police officers
to issue on-the-spot fines to first-time cannabis offenders.

Chris Davies, MEP for the north west, thinks this has muddied the water
and has described it as "hopelessly confused".

He thinks the change will prove ineffective.

Mr Davies cannot understand why – with cannabis user figures down
considerably – the government feels it necessary to again reclassify
the drug.

He said: "Five years ago the government followed the advice of its
advisers that cannabis presented too few dangers to warrant its status and
downgraded it to Class B.

"Since then, its use amongst young people has fallen by more than 20 per
cent.

"Now in the face of this success the criminal penalties are being raised
against the advice of the Advisory Council on Drugs Misuse.

"It makes no sense at all."

Mr Davies thinks the change will victimise "decent people" instead of
tackling those at the root of drug crime.

He said: "Ten years ago more than 40,000 people were arrested each year
for cannabis possession and a significant number were imprisoned.

"Lives were ruined for no good purpose.

"Drugs policy in Britain is a farce.

"It puts huge sums of money into the hands of real villains while branding
decent people as criminals."

Paul Brown, director of Cumbria Alcohol and Drug Advisory Service, agrees
that with cannabis figures down, the government should be tackling the
country's binge drinking problem.

Mr Brown said: "I think it's not going to have much effect at all.

"I just don't understand the reasoning behind it.

"When the government declassified cannabis, less people actually smoked
it; I thought that was what they wanted.

"I think it is more of a moral justification than anything else. They have
acted against the judgement of their own advisory committee.

"They have not treated it as a health issue but as a moral one.

"A lot of people are saying 14 and 15-year-olds are smoking cannabis.

"Well, look at the situation with alcohol where high rates of people are
dying in their early 20s after they started drinking in their early teens.

"We have got a big problem with alcohol in Cumbria and nationwide which
the government seems to be turning a blind eye to.

"They are allowing the two big killers, smoking and drinking, to go
untouched.

"They know they won't be re-elected if they ban smoking and drinking.

"I don't think it will make any difference at all.

"Cannabis users are not interested in classification.

"There is more skunk available but schizophrenia has not increased.

"There are more strains of cannabis available now, some of which are very
high in THC (a chemical found in the plant).

"But what the government is doing is lumping all cannabis together."

A spokesman for NHS Cumbria said: "There are concerns aroundcannabis use
and mental health problems.

"We know that skunk and other similar more toxic varieties of cannabis are
particularly risky. If people have concerns about the use of cannabis,
they can contact the national Talk to Frank drug helpline service on 0800
77 66 00."
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