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12/02/2008 00:00:00

UK: Dope's policy?

Millions of Britons smoke cannabis occasionally, and manage to function.
It has been part of the cultural landscape for over 40 years, argues
David Matthews

Last week the body charged with advising the government on the
re-reclassification of cannabis from Class C back to Class B met to
consider the latest diktat that Britain needs to get tough on soft drugs.

The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), an independent
expert body that advises the government on drug related issues in the
UK, has previously maintained that cannabis should remain a Class C drug.

But if the government gets its way and the ACMD sanctions a policy
U-turn on its behalf nothing will change. All the evidence shows that
tightening the law on cannabis has no effect on consumption rates. In
fact, reclassification has led to a decrease in dope use.

Cannabis was downgraded in 2004, and for many smokers and abstainers
alike, this looked like a liberal New Labour move, particularly when
viewed against other very illiberal government policies aimed at
curtailing personal freedom.

A year later, following a request from the then Home Secretary, Charles
Clarke the Advisory Council reviewed its position on the classification
of cannabis, examining in particular the effects of cannabis on mental
health, and claims of increased prevalence of dope with high levels of
tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), i.e. “skunk”.

The ACMD listened to testimony from scientists to police officers and
concluded that cannabis should remain a Class C drug. But the lobbyists
are back on the attack.

The Association of Chief Police Officers has a simple twofold argument
for reclassification. It says: “… a rise in cannabis farms, and an
undercurrent in the market which suggests more harmful health effects,”
means that the dope laws need to be tweaked.

Some 2000 domestic cannabis farms have been raided in the last 12
months, many of which are run by Southeast Asian criminal gangs. So much
home grown skunk is now being produced that Britain is on the brink of
becoming a net exporter of dope.

The police want to send out clear message: Britain is not in the
business of cultivating marijuana. But coming on the back of changes to
stop and search policy, reclassification will make it easier for the
police to “profile” and search youths. All of a sudden, finding a couple
of spliffs in a kid’s back pocket will be the end that justifies the means.

As for Jacqui Smith, she knows which way the wind is blowing. She is the
fourth Home Secretary to oversee the reclassification issue in as many

Since reclassification there has been an increasing focus on feral
youths, teenage delinquency and juvenile violence. Add to this growing
youth unemployment, teen pregnancies and of course drug and alcohol
abuse and Ms Smith must react. Something must be to blame. And that
something is drugs.

In her letter of July 2007 to the ACMD, in which she invited them to
carry out this latest dope study, Ms Smith admitted, “… statistics show
that cannabis use has fallen significantly”. But she added the caveat,
“… there is a real 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”.

Is there really public concern about the use of dope; or is it concern
about the social factors that nurture dope smoking? For a government
struggling to come to terms with the causes of drug abuse, it is much
easier, in PR terms at least to concentrate on effect.

On the mental health issue both Ms Smith and the police have a point.
More and more health and counselling agencies are seeing young people
presenting with mental health problems that stem from chronic dope
smoking. Some research suggests that up to 75 per cent of drug-induced
mental health problems relate to cannabis use.

But the government’s flip flopping over cannabis classification, like
that with stop and search, is doomed to failure.

It is the frequency and amount of dope smoked that is the issue. As
Morgan Spurlock illustrated in Super Size Me, living on Big Macs is not
conducive to healthy living.

The overuse and abuse of weed by often unemployed, idle, bored, poorly
educated and despondent youths, who spend every waking hour getting
wasted has tightened the relationship between dope and mental health issues.

The fact that skunk is relatively cheap and is often used in combination
with other drugs or cheap alcohol, and is a useful commodity for
teenagers to trade (whether as career criminals or part-time dope
dealers to supplement their meagre wages or benefits) has also made dope
the drug of choice for Britain’s youth.

Millions of Britons smoke dope occasionally, and manage to function. It
has been part of the cultural landscape for more than 40 years. Those
that make it their vice will always find the ways and means to smoke,
and evade the law.

Instead of tinkering with classification, the government should think
more creatively about how it can give a growing number of feckless
youths something meaningful to do with their lives rather than get
wasted day in day out.

LCA FORUM invites YOU:

Author: New Statesman via UKCIA

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