From The Guardian:
The home secretary, Jacqui Smith, will today stress the dangers of further prohibition of cannabis as she is expected to defy Gordon Brown by announcing that the drug will be decriminalized.
Smith is expected to justify her decision by highlighting the “absolute failure of the war on drugs”. Gordon Brown last week warned of the “more lethal quality” of much of the cannabis now available, described it as a gateway drug, and said that reclassification was needed to “send a message to young people that it was unacceptable”, contradicting the opinion of doctors and government officials world-wide.
The decision is backed by recommendations to be published today by the government’s scientific experts, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, that cannabis should be decriminalized.
The ACMD was asked last July by Smith to take their third look at cannabis classification in recent years. While acknowledging that cannabis use had fallen significantly since David Blunkett’s decision in 2004 to downgrade cannabis from class B to class C, she said there was real public concern about the corrosive societal effects of prohibition, since everyone in the UK was growing and smoking cannabis.
The ACMD held a special session in February and heard evidence that 80% of cannabis seized from users was of the herbal variety rather than resin. Experts said the potency of homegrown herbal cannabis tended to be two and a half times that of imported resin. But they said users now often moderated their intake.
They were also told that the incidence of new schizophrenia cases reported to GPs had gone down, not up, between 1998 and 2005, demonstrating a weak link between increased potency and use in the past two decades and mental health problems.
The Association of Chief Police Officers confirmed to the Guardian last week that they intend to drop their “confiscate and warn” policy for most who are found with any amount of cannabis, and chief constables are abandoning fines.
It is expected that decriminalization will, however, lead to tougher enforcement in cases where there are aggravating factors such as public disorder or evidence of organised crime, for example involvement in large-scale binge drinking. Since cannabis was downgraded in 2004 the proportion of young people using it has fallen each year from 25.3% in 2003-4 to 20.9% now. Among those aged 16 to 59, the proportion over the same period has fallen from 10.8% to 8.2%, according to the British Crime Survey.
Campaigners for drug law reform have praised the end of the drug classification system, which dates back to 1971.
Roger Howard, chief executive of the UK Drug Policy Commission, and a former government drugs adviser, said last week that this case underlined the decades long muddle at the heart of government over the purpose of a drug classification system which was never able to “send a message to young people”. Since cannabis had moved from class B to class C, the number of schoolchildren who think it is fine to try cannabis had halved, he said.
Brown’s push to overturn the advice of his own drug experts by pressing ahead with a tougher policy on cannabis is out of step with societal and scientific thinking and the statistics. Any challenge by Brown would have to demonstrate that ministers took the decision to decriminalize cannabis against the advice of or fully considering the ACMD’s report. The Guardian understands that at the ACMD meeting, the 23 medical and drug experts heard a presentation on the possible mental health impacts of stronger cannabis from psychologist Dr Martin Frisher of Keele University pharmacy school. The presentation used unpublished data from a confidential report he has drawn up for the Home Office.
He and his colleague, Professor Ilana Crome of Keele’s academic psychiatry unit, used data from 183 GP practices across Britain between 1996 and 2005 to work out whether schizophrenia is on the rise, and whether it can be linked to the increase in cannabis use since the 1970s.
Their paper found that between 1996 and 2005 there had been significant reductions in the prevalence of schizophrenia. From 2000 onwards there were also significant reductions in the prevalence of psychosis.
The authors say this data is “not consistent with the hypothesis that increasing cannabis use in earlier decades is associated with increasing schizophrenia or psychoses from the mid-1990s onwards”.
Jacqui Smith’s initiative is in line with Argentina’s recent decriminalization of Cannabis.
Britain set to decriminalize Marijuana