Cannabis should be reclassified to Class B due to the increased strength of the drug, the home secretary has said.
In a statement to parliament today, Jacqui Smith said the move reflected the “danger” cannabis posed to individuals and communities.
“I make no apology for erring on the side of caution and upgrading its classification. There is a compelling case to act now rather than risk the health of future generations,” she said.
Smith said she had asked the Association of Chief Police Officers to propose “more robust” enforcement measures to deal with the drug.
The Home Office said the decision reflected the fact that skunk, a much stronger version of the drug, now dominates the UK’s cannabis market.
The move went against a report from the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs, published today, that recommended retaining the Class C classification of cannabis.
The council’s report, commissioned by the government, said the harmfulness of cannabis “more closely equates with other Class C substances” than with those currently classified as Class B. But it said the use of the drug was a “significant public health issue.”
It also warned that criminal justice measures to minimise the use of cannabis would have “limited effect” and advised the government to develop a public health strategy.
The government also went against the views of people including drugs and health professionals who responded to a government consultation on reclassifiying cannabis. Most believed the drug should remain at Class C.
If approved by parliament, reclassification would take effect from early 2009.
Tony Blair downgraded the drug from Class B to Class C in 2004.
Mental health charity Rethink said the proposed reclassification was a “mistake” because it would not stop people from using the drug
Paul Corry, director of public affairs, said: “This decision goes against all the evidence. Use of the drug has gone down since it was downgraded to class C in 2004 and our research shows that only 3 per cent of users would consider stopping on the grounds of its legal classification.
“The reclassification process will be costly and time consuming, and a waste of valuable resources. It is clear that the government has bowed to political pressure and chosen a criminal justice rather than health focused path.”
But the charity welcomed plans to amend the misuse of drugs legislation so that there are heavier penalties for dealers targeting psychiatric institutions.
SANE called for a review of the whole drug classification system, and said the links between mental illness and cannabis should continue to be highlighted.
“Those of us on the front line, including psychiatrists, police and families, know that cannabis, particularly in its stronger form of skunk, can be dangerous for the significant minority of people vulnerable to mental illness,” SANE’s chief executive Marjorie Wallace said.
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