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The Re-classification of Cannabis

Monday, January 26th, 2009 The Re-classification of Cannabis

Two reports by the BBC (26 01 09) regarding the reclassification of Cannabis from Class C to Class B has been deemed illogical from some critics. From that perspective it will be pertinent to get some of the relevant facts and background as to why there has been a shift in opinion.

Indeed, it has been established that Ministers have ignored advice and have decided to upgrade the drugs classification because of concerns regarding mental health issues.

Jacqui Smith, Home Secretary argues, “uncertainty at the least” on the future impact on young people’s mental health as a result of using cannabis.

Notwithstanding, Magistrates welcomed the reclassification but said planned fines for possessing small amounts undermined the more serious classification.

They said it sent the signal cannabis is not as bad as other Class B drugs. They said it sent the signal cannabis is not as bad as other Class B drugs.

Furthermore, additional consultation has been deemed necessary as magistrates expressed concerns about taking offences away from the courts system.

The Magistrates’ Association argued that some of the offences were too serious to be dealt with out of court and that penalty payment rates were low.

Plans to introduce a “three strikes” system for cannabis possession start with a warning, then an £80 spot fine for a second offence.

Only when a third offence is committed, will the person be liable to arrest and prosecution.

A historical aspect is now relevant. Cannabis users in the UK tend to smoke the drug in “joints” although it can also be eaten in “hash cakes” or drunk (the active ingredient is soluble in milk) in “hash coffee”.

The drug, derived from the flower buds of the cannabis sativa plant, grows indigenously in Asia and has been used as an intoxicant since Assyrian times.

In modern times, it is usually produced in herbal form (”grass” or “weed”) or as a resin (”dope”).

Overall, the use of cannabis in Britain was somewhat limited until the 1950’s. Cannabis was introduced by plantation workers specifically from the Indian subcontinent.

Moreover, it was the hippy sub-culture that saw the expanse in the use of cannabis. Hitherto, Cannabis has long been an illegal in this Country since 1928, when a law derived from the International Convention on Narcotics Control came into effect.

In 1971, under the misuse of Drugs Act, classification was established, in addition sentencing guide lines were also laid down.

In 2004, the then home secretary David Blunkett agreed in the reclassification of cannabis from Grade B to Grade C on the advice of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD).

The state of play is that at present, Alan Campbell, Home Office Minister says, “Cannabis is a harmful drug and while fewer people are taking it than before, it poses a real risk to the health of those who do use it.”

He added: “We are reclassifying cannabis to protect the public and future generations.”

But John Fassenfelt, deputy chair of the Magistrates’ Association, said the fine system would send out mixed messages.

“What is that telling the youngster on the street?” he said.

“Is it telling them well, you can have cannabis, it’s not so serious as other Class B drugs.

In addition he adds, “”It’s a dual justice system. If you smoke or take another Class B drug you’ll be brought to court, if you take cannabis you’ll be given a fine. Where’s the justice in that?”

However Chris Davies of the Liberal Democrat MEP argues that the recent changes are nothing more than disproportionate to the harmfulness of the drug and that they would in any case be ineffective.

Nevertheless, he told the BBC, “The reality is cannabis has been illegal for 80 years and it has made no difference whatsoever to its usage… The use of cannabis should be a matter of health policy not criminal law.

“The principle of a free society is that people should be able to do whatever they like as long as they cause no harm to other people.”

What also needs careful consideration is the argument presented by Debra Bell the mother of a son who became aggressive and dishonest after first smoking the drug aged 14.

She argues, “Thousands across the UK who have written to us have talked about the damage to families… our children are our future.”

Furthermore as indicated by Jacqui Smith who declares that in relation to cannabis she says, “stronger “skunk” varieties account for 80% of the cannabis seized on the streets, and that the drug is nearly three times stronger than in 1995.

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne said: “The move to Class B has got nothing to do with public health and education and everything to do with posturing on penalties.

The debate will continue beyond the new laws.

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