Cannabis is to be reclassified as a Class B drug after an official review this spring, The Times has learnt. Gordon Brown and Jacqui Smith are determined to reverse the decision to downgrade the drug when the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs completes its report in the next few months.
While its recommendations are not yet known, ministers are already making plain that the Home Secretary is prepared to overrule the expert body if necessary. Reclassifying cannabis as a Class B drug will mean that anyone found in possession of the substance could face a five-year jail term and an unlimited fine rather than a police warning and confiscation of the drug. The penalty for supplying would remain the same, at a maximum 14 years in jail and unlimited fines.
The advisory council, which rejected a previous attempt to reclassify cannabis in 2006, has been told to take into account public attitudes
to cannabis as well as the medical evidence of its harm in reaching its conclusion.
“The sentiment from No 10 and the Home Office is very much towards reclassification. It has to be as much about the message that is being sent out as much as anything else,” a senior Whitehall figure has told The Times. New evidence on the harm to mental health that smoking stronger forms of cannabis can cause helped to prompt the latest review of the law last autumn.
In her letter to Professor Sir Michael Rawlins, the chairman of the council, requesting a further review of evidence, Ms Smith said: “Though statistics show that cannabis use has fallen significantly, there is really public concern about the potential mental health effects of cannabis use, in particular the use of stronger forms of the drug, commonly known as skunk. This is in addition to the longitudinal studies undertaken in New Zealand and the Netherlands that link cannabis use to mental health problems.
Shortly after becoming Prime Minister Mr Brown signalled his desire to reverse David Blunkett’s 2001 decision to reduce cannabis to a Class C drug that came into effect three years later. “It is the message you send out
. Why I want to upgrade cannabis and make it more a drug that people worry about is that we don’t want to send out a message, just like with alcohol, to teenagers that we accept these things.”
The unpublished results of authoritative research into cannabis confirm that the skunk now on sale in England is stronger than it was a decade ago, but demolish claims that a new super-strength skunk, which is 20 times more powerful, is dominating the market.
Another dilemma for the Government in defending a decision to press ahead with reclassification is that the latest figures from the British Crime Survey suggest a long-term fall in cannabis use. Figures from the 2006-07 survey estimate that 20.9 per cent of 16 to 24-year-olds used cannabis in the past year. However, there has been a decrease between 1998 and 2006-07 among 16 to 59-year-olds in the use of cannabis from 10.3 per cent to 8.2 per cent.