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British Prime Minister’s Cannabis Conundrum: Will Science or Media Hype Guide Him?

  • by Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director April 5, 2008

    Let’s hope for sanity’s sake that British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is not as bonkers as so many editors and producers are today in the United Kingdom regarding the issue of cannabis. After foreshadowing his intent last week to re-classify cannabis to fetch a harsher penalty and direct police to make more arrests, Mr. Brown will apparently face a much anticipated advisory report from the highly respected, and rarely unobserved, Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) that, like virtually every major government report or commission review, advises for more, not less tolerance and punitive measures for cannabis consumers.

    Will Brown kowtow to this current (and really bizarre) epoch of British media Reefer Madness or respect the ACDM’s logical and pragmatic recommendation not to increase the penalties for cannabis? Why does the British Home Office (and apparently the opposition Tory leader David Cameron as well) continue to pretend The Netherlands–and their ongoing, 35-year positive experience with controlled cannabis sales–does not occur just 95 miles away?

    Of course British law enforcement groups want the increase in penalties, and subsequent arrests therein.

    Cameron, who certainly has primary experience with cannabis (his incident at Eton is instructive, as is his waffling on just how late in life he has used cocaine) sounds like a typical, hypocritical and pandering anti-‘drug’ politician when he tells The Daily Telegraph, “There are all sorts of cannabis on the streets today. Skunk and super skunk are incredibly powerful and can lead to people having all sorts of mental health problems.”

    The Daily Telegraph (April 3, 2008)

    Gordon Brown is facing a dilemma over whether to overrule his own panel of experts and increase the penalties for being caught in possession of cannabis.

    The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs is understood to have decided at a private meeting that it will not recommend tightening the law on the drug.

    The decision presents a potential embarrassment for the Prime Minister, who earlier this week said that he regarded cannabis use as not just illegal but also unacceptable.

    It is understood that 20 out of the panel’s 23 experts decided on Wednesday that there was not sufficient new scientific evidence to justify a change.

    If Mr. Brown decides to press ahead with reclassification, he will risk becoming only the second Prime Minister to over-rule the council, which is a statutory non-departmental public body dating from 1971.

    The Conservatives said that the Government “need a long spell in rehab” over its apparent dithering over the whether to increase the penalties for possessing cannabis.

    The Government reclassified cannabis as a Class C substance – dropping the penalty for possession from five to two years in jail – in 2004.

    Since then it has reviewed the decision twice, in 2005 and 2008.

    Critics say the decision to reclassify has unleashed a major public health problem with figures showing that abuse of cannabis putting 500 adults and children in hospital every week.

    Conservative leader David Cameron said: “There are all sorts of cannabis on the streets today. Skunk and super skunk are incredibly powerful and can lead to people having all sorts of mental health problems.

    “The Conservative Party has a very clear view that it should be class B. People have had enough of reviews and the Prime Minister should stop dithering and get on and make a decision.

    “We need to have more treatment programmes, including residential programmes that take drug addicts and get them off drugs rather than giving them other opiates.”

    Liberal Democrat Mayoral candidate Brian Paddick, who as police commander in Lambeth, south London urged officers to ignore cannabis possession in 2001, said the classification was irrelevant to young people.

    He said: “No young person I know decides if they will smoke cannabis based on whether it’s a class B or class C drug. It’s time the Government stopped playing politics with cannabis and started preventing people from using it in the first place.”

    The mental health charity Rethink, which gave evidence to the committee, said Mr. Brown should heed the committee’s advice.

    Paul Corry, a spokesman, said: “Gordon Brown should put aside his personal views on cannabis and accept the fact that it does not make sense to reclassify.

    “Use of the drug has gone down since it was downgraded in 2004 and research by Rethink shows that only 3 per cent of users would consider stopping on the grounds of illegality.”

    The Association of Chief Police Officers said it backed a reclassification of cannabis.

    A spokesman said: “The ACPO position on cannabis has been well articulated. We stand by the recommendation made to the Advisory Council on Misuse of Drugs that cannabis should be restored to the category of Class B drug.”

    Mr. Brown ordered the committee to carry out the review of the 2004 decision to downgrade cannabis to a class C drug in one of his first acts on becoming Prime Minister last year.

    The committee is understood to have concluded there was no need re-classify after new research found no evidence that rising cannabis use in the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s had led to increases in schizophrenia.

    This is despite many reports pointing to a links between super-strength skunk cannabis, which accounts for 80 per cent of street cannabis, and mental illnesses such as schizoprenia and psychosis.

    The Home Office spokesman said the Government would make a decision when it received the advisory council’s recommendations.

    She said: “Our message has always been that cannabis is an illegal and harmful drug that should not be taken.

    “While evidence shows that cannabis use is falling across all age ranges, we are concerned about stronger strains of the drug.

    “That is why we asked the independent Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to undertake a review of cannabis classification.

    “We tackle cannabis use through tough enforcement, education, prevention and treatment where necessary.”

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