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UK: Cannabis To Be Reclassified As A Class B Drug

Home Office (UK)

Government Crackdown On Cannabis

Cannabis will be reclassified as a Class B drug, sending a strong message that the drug is harmful and should not be taken, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith announced today.

Cannabis use has fallen significantly across all age ranges and this is a testament to the success of the previous ten year Drug Strategy. However, the reduction in cannabis use must not be allowed to reverse.

Reclassification reflects the fact that skunk, a much stronger type of the drug, now dominates the cannabis market. It accounts for 81 per cent of cannabis available on our streets compared to just 30 per cent in 2002. The average age of first use is 13 years old and young people may binge on skunk in the same way as alcohol, trying to achieve the maximum effect. If they do, the independent Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs found that the consequences of this "may be serious to their mental health".

Taking effect from early 2009, the reclassification will mean:

* More robust enforcement against cannabis supply and possession, and those repeatedly caught with the drug will not just receive cannabis warnings;

* A new strategic and targeted approach to tackling cannabis farms and the organised criminals behind them;

* Introducing additional aggravating sentencing factors for those caught supplying cannabis and other illegal substances near further and higher educational establishments, mental health institutions and prisons;

* Working with the Association of Chief Police Officers to look at how existing legislation and powers can be used to curtail the sale and promotion of cannabis paraphernalia; and

* Updating and refreshing our public information messages on the harm caused by cannabis.

The Home Secretary has asked the Association of Chief Police Officers, working with the Police Federation, the Superintendents Association and Criminal Justice Partners, to propose more robust enforcement measures for policing cannabis as a Class B drug. This will make clear that penalties for adults must be escalated following any cannabis warning and that police officers will not be precluded from arresting for a first offence.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said:

"Cannabis is and always has been illegal. It now dominates the illegal drugs market in the UK and is stronger than ever before.

"There is accumulating evidence, reflected in the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs report, showing that the use of stronger cannabis may increase the harm to mental health. Some young people may be 'binge smoking' to achieve maximum possible intoxication which may be very serious to their mental health.

"I make no apology for erring on the side of caution and upgrading its classification. There is a compelling case to act now rather than risk the health of future generations.

"The enforcement response must reflect the danger that the drug poses to individuals, and in turn to communities. Those who are repeatedly caught with cannabis must face tough punishment and that is why I have asked the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) to propose more robust enforcement measures to reflect re-classification.

"It is also important that the organised criminals behind the growing threat of cannabis farms feel the full force of the law, and that we use every opportunity and means to disrupt their activities so that the UK becomes a high risk place for them to operate.

"I also want to see more action against the trade in cannabis paraphernalia and will work with ACPO to look at how existing legislation and powers can be used by the police, local authorities and other partners to curtail the sale and promotion of these items."

Cannabis use has fallen across all ages in recent years. However, the increasing potency and availability of stronger strains, known as skunk, which now makes up 81 per cent of the cannabis sold in the UK, poses a real threat to the health of those who use it.

Health Secretary Alan Johnson said:

"The message has always been that cannabis is a harmful and illegal drug and should not be used. We are determined to ensure that young people in particular are well aware of all the risks. Our multi-media 'FRANK' campaign will ensure that this is the case."

Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families Ed Balls said:

"Cannabis use by young people has been falling over recent years but remains a persistent problem. The reclassification sends the right message to young people about the risks from cannabis use - this is especially important given its increased strength and the heightened risk to young people.

"We also know parents are concerned about the recent trend towards the use of stronger strains of cannabis by young people and the potential for significant mental health problems that would severely impact on a young person's future."

The Government will continue to educate on the danger of cannabis and other illegal substances through successful public education campaigns, such as the multi-media FRANK campaign, education and, where required, treatment.

The Home Office today also published responses to cannabis questions that were in "Drugs: Our Community, Your Say" and a study on the potency of cannabis.

NOTES TO EDITORS

1. The Prime Minister announced to the House on 18 July 2007 that the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs would review cannabis classification in light of concerns about it becoming a stronger drug.

2. Under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 the Home Office must consult the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs on drug classification.

3. The report confirms that cannabis poses a real threat to the health of those who use it since:

* the vast majority of cannabis on the illegal market today is much stronger than in previous years;

* the average first age use of cannabis is just 13;

* some young people may 'binge smoke' to achieve maximum possible intoxication which the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs concludes 'may be very serious to their mental health'; and

* there is clear evidence that the use of cannabis may worsen the symptoms of schizophrenia and lead to relapse.

4. Changing a drug's classification means affirmative resolution debates in both Houses before the new classification is implemented. Cannabis should become a Class B drug in early 2009.

5. Responses to cannabis questions that were in "Drugs: Our Community, Your Say" are at http://drugs.homeoffice.gov.uk/publication-search/cannabis/consultation-response. These responses were held over so that the ACMD could consider them in considering the appropriate classification for cannabis. The cannabis potency study is on the web at http://drugs.homeoffice.gov.uk/publication-search/cannabis/potency

6. The ACMD's full report is at http://drugs.homeoffice.gov.uk/drugs-laws/acmd/.

Client ref 094/2008
COI ref 160585P

ENDS

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