More MS news articles for Jan 2002

Cannabis, a burning issue for many years

Jan 14, 2002
The Birmingham Post - United Kingdom

The cannabis issue had been hotly debated for years before Home Secretary David Blunkett finally decided to relax the stringent laws governing the drug last October.

Supporters claim it is no more harmful than alcohol or smoking, and can give vital pain relief to people suffering from conditions such as multiple sclerosis and epilepsy.

Opponents, including the Government, say the evidence shows that cannabis is linked to crime and can lead to the taking of hard drugs such as Ecstasy and cocaine.

Mr Blunkett's proposals, which are set to come into effect this spring, mean possession of cannabis should no longer be an arrestable offence - but it will not officially be decriminalised.

It would be reclassified as a Class C drug, putting it in the same category as anti-depressants or steroids - a remarkable turnaround for Labour, which came to power in 1997 pledging 'zero tolerance' on drugs.

In practice, cannabis users would be unlikely to face any consequences if they were caught with small amounts of the drug.

The Minister said it would allow police to concentrate their resources on targeting heroin and cocaine dealers.

But the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, which Mr Blunkett will consult over the plans, first recommended reclassifying cannabis as far back as 1979.

The first hint that a relaxation of the law was on the cards came last July when the Metropolitan Police started a pilot scheme in Brixton where people found carrying cannabis were cautioned on the spot.

Police chiefs said the initiative was introduced because it was felt too much time was spent on dealing with cannabis possession, despite the fact it was treated as a minor offence. But the strongest case for full legalisation appears to lie with those who want cannabis legalised for medicinal purposes.

Earlier last year, a House of Lords select committee report recommended that research into cannabis use should be speeded up.

The report said: 'In the absence of a viable alternative medicine, and though we would not encourage smoking of cannabis, we consider it undesirable to prosecute genuine therapeutic users of cannabis who possess or grow cannabis for their own use.'

The Government responded by saying it had no intention of legalising cannabis for recreational purposes but would consider relaxing the laws for its medicinal use.

It has been claimed that cannabis can prevent nausea caused by cancer chemotherapy, alleviate muscle spasms from multiple sclerosis, relieve chronic pain, and help in the treatment of anorexia, epilepsy, glaucoma, and mood disorders.

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