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Cannabis Effectively Decriminalised In Blighty

Cannabis Effectively Decriminalised In Blighty
By Malcolm Aitken

The possession of cannabis for personal use is to be effectively decriminalised in the UK.

Except where cannabis is associated with aggravated behaviour that threatens public order or endangers children, possessing it won’t be an arrestable offence, the British Home secretary David Blunkett announced yesterday.

Although it will be downgraded from a Class B drug (intermediate category) to Class C (least harmful category), cannabis will (technically) still be illegal the Home Office says. However, Mr Blunkett made it clear it will become standard practice for police officers to confiscate cannabis they find on suspects and issue a caution. They will lose the power of arrest. Neither the Home Office press release outlining Mr Blunkett’s reforms nor his announcement in the House of Commons mentioned, though, what quantity of cannabis people will be allowed to possess without getting arrested. It’s expected the reforms will be implemented by July 2003.

Speculation has been rife in Britain recently that the Government may soften its stance on cannabis possession in a bid to target harder drugs and dealers. The new approach seems to vindicate a south London pilot scheme under which possession of cannabis was tolerated. Police resources were redirected to more serious crimes. Hard drug-related arrests rose by 10 percent in Brixton, south London, 44 percent for crack cocaine offences.

The Labour government has softened on users but will hit dealers harder. Convicted suppliers and dealers of class C drugs will face up to 14 years in prison, up from a five-year maximum sentence.

Mr Blunkett’s decision is in line with recommendations by a statutory body of medical experts who examined the issue, the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), and the all-party Home Affairs Committee.

The government has not, however, followed committee recommendations on downgrading ecstasy from a class A (most harmful) to a class B drug. ‘We still have much to learn about the long-term harm that it causes, but what we do know is that ecstasy can kill unpredictably and that there is no such thing as a safe dose.’

The Government also ruled out so-called heroin shooting galleries, where users can inject drugs in a public space without being prosecuted. The underlying idea is to get addicts off the streets and reduce the spread of disease through dirty needles.

The Conservative home affairs spokesman Oliver Letwin says the Government has got it wrong. This new policy threatens the country’s most vulnerable communities with the prospect of social disaster, Mr Letwin says. Moreover, it sends out ‘deeply confusing mixed messages’ and would effectively give over the control of cannabis to drug dealers with the police turning away.

Mr Blunkett also announced plans to spend £183 million on drug treatment and harm minimization, alcohol awareness-raising and big advertising campaigns to alert young people to the dangers of Class A drugs.

- Malcolm Aitken is a freelance journalist. He can be contacted at MTFAitken@aol.com

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