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London Lightens Up On Cannabis

By Sefany Jones, Contributing Editor
Thursday, March 14, 2002 @ 10:30 AM


London's Government Wants To L

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As reported by DrudgeReport.com:

LONDON (Reuters) - Medical experts gave the go-ahead Thursday for Britain to reclassify cannabis as low-risk in the latest in a series of moves relaxing attitudes toward soft drugs.

In a report to Home Secretary David Blunkett, medical experts from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs said all cannabis preparations should be downgraded to Class C -- the lowest risk grouping of controlled drugs. Classifying it as any higher risk was "disproportionate," the report said.

The downgrade would put cannabis, which the government estimates was used by more than 1.5 million 16- to 24-year-olds in Britain last year, in the same category as anabolic steroids and growth hormones.

The government stressed it had no plans to decriminalize cannabis and had made no final decisions on whether to reclassify the drug.

But it pointed to comments by Blunkett in October proposing the downgrading of cannabis to Class C from Class B -- a category which includes amphetamines -- and the removal of police powers of arrest for possession of small amounts of cannabis.

"We do not believe it would be right to decriminalize or legalize cannabis," a government spokesman said. "At the same time we do have to recognize that there is a need to refocus police effort on Class A drugs."

He said Class A drugs -- the most harmful category including ecstasy, cocaine and heroin -- accounted for 99 percent of "the cost to society of drug use."

Researchers said Wednesday that relaxing British cannabis laws could save around 50 million pounds ($71 million) a year and free up the equivalent of 500 police officers.

A study by the South Bank University's Criminal Policy Research Unit found that around 69,000 people were cautioned or convicted for cannabis possession in 1999, with police spending an average of four hours on each offense.

With most police officers operating in pairs, the study said 770,000 officer hours, or the time of 500 officers a year, were spent processing cannabis offenses.

Government data show the use of cannabis has increased dramatically over the past two decades. Long-term use of the drug among people aged between 20 to 24 in England and Wales rose from 12 percent in 1981 to 52 percent in 2000.

The government has also said it will decide by 2004-2005 whether to license cannabis-based products for medical use.

Patients suffering from multiple sclerosis and other forms of severe pain have long been campaigning for the right to use legally prescribed cannabis-based drugs to help ease pain.


*****

As similar story as reported by ThisLondon.com:

Scientists today cleared the way for a softening of the law on cannabis, declaring that the drug "is not associated with major health problems for the individual or society".

The Government's Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs found that while cannabis smokers can become dependent, the drug is not as addictive as tobacco or alcohol.

Although cannabis may pose risks for people with heart problems, or for schizophrenics, the dangers are not so great as in the case of other drugs such as amphetamine, say the scientists. In healthy young people, cannabis is even said to have a similar effect on the heart as exercise.

The findings are sure to dismay some anti-drugs campaigners who regard cannabis as a "gateway drug" which can lead users to experiment with harder substances, such as heroin.

At the moment, cannabis is a Class B drug, one rung down from cocaine, heroin and ecstasy, but on a par with amphetamine or "speed." In October, Home Secretary David Blunkett signalled his intention to downgrade cannabis to Class C alongside steroids and some sleeping pills - meaning that being caught with small amounts would no longer be an arrestable offence.

Today's advisory council report says cannabis is less harmful than other Class B drugs, adding: "The continuing juxtaposition of cannabis with these more harmful Class B drugs, erroneously ( and dangerously) suggests that their harmful effects are equivalent."

It makes clear that alcohol is far more damaging than cannabis to health and society at large because it encourages risk-taking and leads to aggressive and violent behaviour.

Today's report - always expected to support downgrading - is seen as the next step toward the biggest change in the drugs laws for more than 30 years.

Both the Commons and the Lords will have to debate and vote on the issue before the law can be changed and the Home Secretary will wait until he has read two more key reports before he asks Parliament to look at the question.

First, he wants to see a study of the Metropolitan Police's Lambeth experiment where people caught with cannabis have been let off with a warning and simply had the drug confiscated. Then he will read the home affairs select committee's wide-ranging report on the Government's drugs policies.

A Home Office source said any change in the law would come "in the summer at the earliest." It would still be possible to go to jail for dealing in cannabis, but people caught with small amounts for personal use would likely face only confiscation and a formal warning.


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