The official body which advises the government on drugs policy has decided cannabis should remain a class C drug, the BBC understands.
Source BBC News
3 April 2008
The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs’ decision appears to go against the view of Gordon Brown, who seems to favour returning the drug to class B.
The government asked the council to review cannabis’s legal status amid concerns over stronger forms of it.
The council refused to confirm or deny a decision.
Chairman Professor Sir Michael Rawlins said a report would be sent to Home Secretary Jacqui Smith later this month.
The expected decision has caused concern among mental health charities who say skunk, a stronger form of the drug, can trigger psychotic breakdowns, hallucinations and paranoia.
BBC home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw said the decision was taken at a private meeting of the council, which discussed some significant new research from Keele University about links between cannabis and mental illness.
The study found nothing to support a theory that rising cannabis use in the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s led to increases in the incidence of schizophrenia later on.
The Advisory Council’s decision leaves the government in an awkward position, our correspondent adds.
Gordon Brown has indicated he favours transferring cannabis back to class B to send a message about the dangers of the drug, particularly to teenagers.
At a news conference earlier this week, he said that – given the changing nature of cannabis and the greater damage being caused – there was a stronger case for sending out a signal that cannabis was not only illegal, but unacceptable.
If the government does reclassify, it would be rejecting the findings of the Advisory Council’s panel of 23 drug experts, which has never happened before on a decision about drug classification.
Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said she would not comment on the review until she had received it.
MAXIMUM DRUG PENALTIES
Class A: Seven years for possession, life for supplying
Class B: Five years for possession, 14 for supplying
Class C: Two years for possession, 14 for supplying
Cannabis was downgraded from a class B drug to class C in January 2004.
The move was designed to free up police time and allow officers to concentrate on tackling harder drugs.
However, as a class C drug, people still face up to two years in prison if caught in possession. People found to be carrying a class B drug can be given a five-year sentence.
Steve Rolles, of the Drugs Policy Foundation, Transform, said increasing jail sentences from two years to five was not the best way to send a strong signal to teenagers about the dangers of the drug.
“Rather than mass criminalisation of millions of young people, the best way would be to invest in effective, targeted public health education,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
He said current estimates suggested 2 million people in the country were regular cannabis users, 4 million dabble occasionally and 6 million have tried it.
Mental health charity Sane was one group which gave evidence to the advisory group.
Marjorie Wallace, the charity’s chief executive, said not enough was yet known about the direct links between cannabis and the brain, particularly the developing brain.
She said she has heard of hundreds of cases where people have smoked cannabis heavily, in particular the stronger form of skunk, and gone on to suffer psychotic breakdowns, hallucinations, paranoia and feelings of fear.
“Young people are literally dicing with their minds and futures,” she told BBC News.
“And if you have ever seen someone who has taken heavy cannabis and gone on a trip from which they have never really returned and you have seen the collateral damage to them and their families, then you have to look at it from that point of view.”