2002-07-11 10:01:07 -0400
By Jeremy Lovell
British media took a dim view on Thursday of the government's decision to ease penalties on cannabis users in the face of a dramatic rise in the drug's use.
Home Secretary David Blunkett, confirming months of speculation, told parliament Wednesday cannabis would be downgraded to a Class C drug, putting it in the same category as anabolic steroids and growth hormones.
Britons, among the heaviest users of weed in Europe, will soon be able to own and smoke small quantities in private without fear of prosecution as a result of the law change.
"Blunkett gambles with our children," thundered the Sun tabloid across its front page. "The Home Secretary is taking one of the biggest risks of his career," it added in an editorial.
Opposition politicians accused the Labor government of sending mixed messages to the young, making it unclear whether the government believed smoking dope was good or bad.
The government was downgrading but not decriminalizing possession or usage. At the same time it was doubling to 10 years the possible jail term for dealing in cannabis, they noted.
The Times took a somewhat calmer but nonetheless damning view of the announcement that follows a trial of softened police approach to the drug in the crime-ridden south London suburb of Brixton.
"The Blunkett formula is not entirely inconsistent, merely hypocritical," it said in an editorial. "It is very unlikely to be dangerous, but it is quite unnecessarily muddled."
The right-leaning Daily Telegraph simply wrote off the government initiative as "Dopey policy."
"Blunkett is trying to get the best of both worlds. Unfortunately, he seems much more likely to end up with the worst," it added.
A report published late last year showed cannabis is the most commonly used illegal drug in the 15-nation European Union, with at least 1 in 10 adults in the bloc having used it. Some 5 million people in Britain regularly use cannabis, and government data shows its use has risen sharply over the past two decades.
"Spliffing!" observed the Daily Mirror tabloid.
"It is hard to over-estimate the magnitude of this error, the lethal threat it poses to our children, and the depth of ignorance and sheer willful irresponsibility that it represents on the part of the government," the Daily Mail said.
But the left-leaning Guardian rode to the rescue of Blunkett, praising his foresight and courage in bowing to the inevitable.
"Blunkett the brave," it headlined its editorial. "The minister has
declined to downgrade Ecstacy from categories A to B, as reformers wanted,
but Blunkett has made a good start."
Copyright © 2002 Reuters Limited