Soft drug in a class of its own

The reclassification of cannabis was intended to give a more
credible message to young people about the relative dangers of
drugs. However, there is a serious risk that the reclassification
from Class B to Class C will cause confusion, and that the illegal
nature and health dangers of cannabis misuse will not be made clear

My view of the reclassification is based on personal experience of
cannabis misuse which eventually led to dependency. The change,
under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, reclassifies cannabis from
being of “intermediate harm” to “least harmful”. My concern is that
those who feel the need to justify their misuse may privately
translate “least harmful” into “OK”, and view the legislation as a
licence to pursue their habit.

Reclassification reflects the fact that cannabis is less harmful
than Class A drugs such as cocaine and heroin, and Class B drugs
such as amphetamines. But reclassifying cannabis does not alter the
fact that there are still risks associated with it.

The law change was also intended to enable law enforcement agencies
to focus more effectively on Class A drugs. However, unlike other
Class C drugs, the police are still able to arrest people for
cannabis possession. The maximum penalty for possession has been
reduced from five to two years’ imprisonment, but the maximum
penalty for trafficking remains at 14 years.

I believe that smoking cannabis is dangerous. It can cause acute
health problems in the heart, lungs and brain, and grown men have
been known to collapse suddenly after smoking less than half a

Cannabis impairs the performance of complex tasks, including
driving, and when taken with alcohol can be particularly dangerous.
Acute cannabis intoxication can lead to panic attacks, paranoia and
short- and long-term psychotic states. Misuse can also aggravate
mental health problems for those with a pre-existing illness.

Cannabis dependency syndrome is estimated to affect one in 10
regular cannabis users. Various symptoms could suggest dependency,
such as a compulsion to use cannabis and increased tolerance.

The possibility of life-long cannabis dependency is reason enough
for the dangers associated with the misuse of this drug to be made
more widely known.

Jon Goble is a member of the Service User Training and
Research Association.

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