Gordon Brown is facing a dilemma over whether to overrule his own
panel of experts and increase the penalties for being caught in
possession of cannabis.
The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs is understood to have
decided at a private meeting that it will not recommend tightening
the law on the drug. advertisement
The decision presents a potential embarrassment for the Prime
Minister, who earlier this week said that he regarded cannabis use as
not just illegal but also unacceptable.
It is understood that 20 out of the panel's 23 experts decided on
Wednesday that there was not sufficient new scientific evidence to
justify a change.
If Mr Brown decides to press ahead with reclassification, he will
risk becoming only the second Prime Minister to over-rule the
council, which is a statutory non-departmental public body dating from 1971.
The Conservatives said that the Government "need a long spell in
rehab" over its apparent dithering over the whether to increase the
penalties for possessing cannabis.
The Government reclassified cannabis as a Class C substance -
dropping the penalty for possession from five to two years in jail - in 2004.
Since then it has reviewed the decision twice, in 2005 and 2008.
Critics say the decision to reclassify has unleashed a major public
health problem with figures showing that abuse of cannabis putting
500 adults and children in hospital every week.
Conservative leader David Cameron said: "There are all sorts of
cannabis on the streets today. Skunk and super skunk are incredibly
powerful and can lead to people having all sorts of mental health problems.
"The Conservative Party has a very clear view that it should be class
B. People have had enough of reviews and the Prime Minister should
stop dithering and get on and make a decision.
"We need to have more treatment programmes, including residential
programmes that take drug addicts and get them off drugs rather than
giving them other opiates."
Liberal Democrat Mayoral candidate Brian Paddick, who as police
commander in Lambeth, south London urged officers to ignore cannabis
possession in 2001, said the classification was irrelevant to young people.
He said: "No young person I know decides if they will smoke cannabis
based on whether it's a class B or class C drug. It's time the
Government stopped playing politics with cannabis and started
preventing people from using it in the first place."
The mental health charity Rethink, which gave evidence to the
committee, said Mr Brown should heed the committee's advice.
Paul Corry, a spokesman, said: "Gordon Brown should put aside his
personal views on cannabis and accept the fact that it does not make
sense to reclassify.
"Use of the drug has gone down since it was downgraded in 2004 and
research by Rethink shows that only 3 per cent of users would
consider stopping on the grounds of illegality."
The Association of Chief Police Officers said it backed a
reclassification of cannabis.
A spokesman said: "The ACPO position on cannabis has been well
articulated. We stand by the recommendation made to the Advisory
Council on Misuse of Drugs that cannabis should be restored to the
category of Class B drug."
Mr Brown ordered the committee to carry out the review of the 2004
decision to downgrade cannabis to a class C drug in one of his first
acts on becoming Prime Minister last year.
The committee is understood to have concluded there was no need
re-classify after new research found no evidence that rising cannabis
use in the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s had led to increases in schizophrenia.
This is despite many reports pointing to a links between
super-strength skunk cannabis, which accounts for 80 per cent of
street cannabis, and mental illnesses such as schizoprenia and psychosis.
The Home Office spokesman said the Government would make a decision
when it received the advisory council's recommendations.
She said: "Our message has always been that cannabis is an illegal
and harmful drug that should not be taken.
"While evidence shows that cannabis use is falling across all age
ranges, we are concerned about stronger strains of the drug.
"That is why we asked the independent Advisory Council on the Misuse
of Drugs to undertake a review of cannabis classification.
"We tackle cannabis use through tough enforcement, education,
prevention and treatment where necessary."
Newshawk: The Source for Cannabis News www.mapinc.org
Pubdate: Fri, 4 Apr 2008
Source: Daily Telegraph (UK)
Copyright: 2008 Telegraph Group Limited
Author: Christopher Hope, Home Affairs Correspondent
Cited: Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs
Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/find?207 (Cannabis - United Kingdom)