A leading mental health charity this week called on the home secretary to focus on the mental health risks of cannabis rather than increasing the penalties for its usage.
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.
Rethink has written to Clarke urging him to launch a public awareness campaign on the possible negative effects of cannabis, carried out by the Department of Health rather than the Home Office, and to provide resources for measures to reduce the risks involved.
The charity has also called on the government to sponsor and support new research into the relationship between severe mental illness and cannabis and the most effective ways of reducing use.
Rethink chief executive Cliff Prior said he was concerned that the risks to mental health caused by cannabis use could “translate into a knee-jerk reaction” from the Home Office to reclassify it as a class B drug – resulting in stiffer penalties for users.
“We reject that approach, which will only lead to further confusion amongst high-risk groups and could lead to thousands of people being dragged through the courts rather than being supported through health and social care,” he said.
The charity concludes its letter by calling for tougher penalties for cannabis dealers who it says prey on people with mental health problems around hospitals and community facilities.