Controversy over downgrading of cannabis

Cannabis will be reclassified next week from a Class B to a
Class C drug, despite evidence cannabis use by teenagers is a major
cause of psychosis.

The government announced a £1 million information campaign
about the law change, with radio ads targeted at young people
telling them that cannabis remains illegal, and that under-18s can
still be arrested for possession.

But reclassification means that possession for over-18s will no
longer be an arrestable offence except in “aggravated”
cases such as smoking cannabis near children.

Home Office drugs minister Caroline Flint said “by
reclassifying cannabis we are being honest to young people about
the harm cannabis can cause in comparison to drugs such as crack
and heroin. This is an open and effective way to tackle the
problems associated with class A drugs.”

Cannabis will be reclassified on 29 January as party of the
government’s overall drug strategy. The change was
recommended by an independent expert committee, the Advisory
Council on the Misuse of Drugs, on the grounds that heroin and
crack cocaine are more harmful to individuals.

But research published by the Institute of Psychiatry warned
that regular cannabis use among teens can cause psychotic illness.
Earlier this month in an interview with the Times newspaper,
Professor Robin Murray the author of the study, suggested the
government should think again about reclassifying cannabis.

 “Unfortunately there were no experts in psychosis on the
committees (the Home Affairs select committee and the Advisory
Council on the Misuse of Drugs) that advised the government on
re-classifying cannabis. That’s not a criticism — at
the time, no one thought there should have been. Since then there
have been at least four studies that show the use of cannabis can
significantly increase the likelihood of the onset of

“I would say this is now the No 1 problem facing the
mental health services in inner cities. In south London the
incidence of psychosis has doubled since 1964. There is a terrible
drain on resources. Not only are there people suffering from
psychosis who would not be in in-patient beds if they were not
using cannabis, but use of the drug also drastically reduces the
chances of recovery. People who do improve go out on the streets,
meet their old dealer, begin using the drug again and relapse.

“We’re not saying that the government shouldn’t
reclassify cannabis — for most people it causes no problems
— but I am saying that if they’re going to do it they
should warn people of the possible downside.”


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