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Pubdate: 27 Oct 2001

Britain to reduce cannabis penalties


The Guardian: Cannabis smokers will not be arrested [2001.10.24]

Cannabis smokers will not be arrested

BY RICHARD FORD, HOME CORRESPONDENT

CANNABIS will be reclassified so that possession of the drug is no longer an arrestable offence, David Blunkett announced yesterday, in the first relaxation of British drug laws in 30 years.
In the surprise announcement the Home Secretary said that drug laws had to be credible, particularly to young people. He said that cannabis would be moved from a Class B drug to a Class C drug, putting it in the same category as anti-depressants and steroids.

Mr Blunkett denied that the move, which in practice will mean that cannabis smokers are unlikely to be prosecuted if caught with small amounts of the drug, was decriminalisation by another name.The maximum sentence for possession will, however, be cut from five to two years and the term for dealing in cannabis from 14 to five.

Police will no longer have the power to arrest a person found in possession of the drug. They will, however, still be able to carry out stop and searches for it.

Mr Blunkett also indicated that he expected to approve the medicinal use of cannabis and wanted more doctors to prescribe heroin as a way of bringing addicts into the healthcare system.

The reclassification decision is in line with the recommendation of an inquiry last year that was headed by Viscountess Runciman of Doxford. She said last night: "It is a very sensible and welcome move by the Home Secretary. It will make the law much more credible."

Mr Blunkettís decision is intended to free police time to allow them to concentrate on hard drugs such as heroin and cocaine, which are at heart of the Governmentís anti- drugs strategy. He insisted: "I am not either legalising or decriminalising cannabis".

He told the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee: "Re-classification would be quite different from decriminalisation or legalisation. Cannabis would remain a controlled drug and using it a criminal offence".

Mr Blunkett conceded that the operation of the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act lagged far behind the publicís attitudes towards cannabis and that keeping it just one class below heroin and cocaine was not sustainable.

He will put his proposal to the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, which is expected to back the reclassification by next spring. In the 1980s the council voted by a majority in favour of reclassification but no action was taken.

Mr Blunkettís move was welcomed by Labour MPs, the head of the Metropolitan Police and drugcharities. Sir John Stevens, Metropolitan Police Commissioner said: "While cannabis would remain an illegal drug the measures announced by the Home Secretary reflect the growing reality that law enforcers must target the scourge of hard drugs."

Chief constables are concerned at the prospect of losing the power to arrest some one for possession. The Home Office is to hold discussions with the Association of Chief Police Officers on the issue.

Paul Flynn, a Labour MP who has campaigned for drugs reform, said: "This is a wonderful, sensible first step. We congratulate the Government for having the courage to do this. Very few people will now be prosecuted for cannabis possession as a result of this. Itís the equivalent of giving the police and the courts millions of pounds in extra resources."

Roger Howard, of the charity DrugScope, said: "It is very encouraging to have someone in office who is willing to engage in open debate on this issue and then to act."

Oliver Letwin, Shadow Home Secretary, said that his party would consider the issue in an ongoing policy review.


The Guardian: Majority 'In Favour Of Legalising Cannabis' [2001.10.27]
The Guardian: Cannabis smokers will not be arrested [2001.10.24]
The Guardian: Injecting Common Sense [2001.10.24]

David Blunkett on Sky News

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See also: Marijuana as a medicine


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