Sixty Second Interview with Cliff Prior
By Amy Taylor
The Home Secretary Charles Clarke is expected to shortly announce his response to recommendations from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs’ latest review of cannabis.
The review was announced last March, a year after cannabis was downgraded from a Class B to a Class C drug, in response to new research showing an increased risk of cannabis users developing schizophrenia.
With this in mind this week the mental health charity Rethink wrote to the Home Secretary appealing to him to focus on the mental health risks of cannabis rather than upping its legal status and subsequently increasing the penalties for its usage.
Would the effect of increasing cannabis to a class B drug, like it used to be, not put significant numbers of people off using it? If not then how can this be done instead?
There is no evidence that the three million people who regularly use cannabis take its legal classification into account before indulging. There is plenty of evidence that people are becoming more aware of their ability and responsibility to look after their own health. Targeted and consistent messages pointing to the increased risk of developing schizophrenia through using cannabis use when you are young, over a long time or when a close family member already has a severe mental illness will arm people with the facts and help them make the sensible choice to reduce and stop cannabis consumption.
What effects do you think such a reclassification might have?
A decision to change the classification again would further confuse people, leave the police in a difficult position and divert precious resources from the actions that would make a real difference to people’s mental health, such as a high-profile public health information campaign.
Do you think more research needs to be carried out on the links between cannabis and mental health problems?
Absolutely – there is a strong evidence base from long-term, international studies that the links are real, but we don’t fully understand them and we don’t fully understand how best to communicate the dangers to the most at risk groups. There is lots of scope for research in these areas.
Why do you think a public education campaign about cannabis should be led by the Department of Health rather than the Home Office?
People associate the Home Office with the criminal justice system and we need to start treating cannabis use as primarily a health issue rather than a problem that can be solved through the courts. The Department of Health has run some very successful health information campaigns that are trusted by the public and have been shown to raise people’s awareness, change their attitudes and shift their behaviour.
How adequate are current services for cannabis users?
Services for all kinds of drug users are poor, and for people using cannabis virtually non-existent. Services for people who use drugs and have a severe mental illness can further suffer from poor co-ordination and lack of a single point of professional responsibility. In short, there is a real need for proven cannabis reduction programmes and proper co-ordination across drugs services and mental health services
You have also called for tougher penalties for cannabis dealers and the development of policies specifically to tackle cannabis dealing in and around mental health facilities. Why do you think these are required?
Drug dealers who prey on people in a health crisis and who exploit people in a vulnerable position need to face the consequences of doing so. It is totally unacceptable that service users should have to put up with that exploitation or that staff should have to work in an atmosphere of menace and criminality. Drug dealers need to understand that mental health services are off limits.