Mar 14, 2002
By Kate Kelland
LONDON, (Reuters) - Medical experts have given the go-ahead for the government to reclassify cannabis as low-risk in the latest in a series of moves relaxing attitudes towards soft drugs.
In a report to Home Secretary David Blunkett, medical experts from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) said all cannabis preparations should be downgraded to Class C--the lowest risk grouping of controlled drugs. Classifying it as any higher risk was "disproportionate," the report said on Thursday.
The downgrade would put cannabis, which the government estimates was used by more than 1.5 million 16- to 24-year-olds in Britain last year, in the same category as anabolic steroids and growth hormones.
The government stressed it had no plans to decriminalise cannabis and had made no final decisions on whether to reclassify the drug.
But it pointed to comments by Blunkett in October proposing the downgrading of cannabis to Class C from Class B--a category that includes amphetamines--and the removal of police powers of arrest for possession of small amounts of cannabis.
"We do not believe it would be right to decriminalise or legalise cannabis," a government spokesman said. "At the same time we do have to recognise that there is a need to refocus police effort on Class A drugs."
He said Class A drugs--the most harmful category including ecstasy, cocaine, crack cocaine and heroin--accounted for 99% of "the cost to society of drug use."
Researchers said on Wednesday that relaxing British cannabis laws could save around £50 million a year and free up the equivalent of 500 police officers.
A study by the South Bank University's Criminal Policy Research Unit found that around 69,000 people were cautioned or convicted for cannabis possession in 1999, with police spending an average of four hours on each offence.
With most police officers operating in pairs, the study said 770,000 officer hours, or the time of 500 officers a year, were spent processing cannabis offences.
Government data show the use of cannabis has increased dramatically over the past two decades. Long-term use of the drug among people aged between 20 to 24 in England and Wales rose from 12% in 1981 to 52% in 2000.
The government has also said it will decide by 2004-2005 whether to license cannabis-based products for medical use.
Patients suffering from multiple sclerosis (MS) and other painful conditions
have long been campaigning for the right to use legally prescribed cannabis-based
drugs to help ease pain.
Copyright © 2002 Reuters Limited