Britain Backpedals on Marijuana Decriminalization Plan 6/27/03

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British officials have delayed plans to formally downgrade marijuana possession to a non-arrestable offense, according to statements made this week from a spokesman for the British Home Office. The legal change, which Home Secretary David Blunkett had previously promised would occur this summer, is now unlikely to be implemented until sometime after January 2004.

The Home Office maintains the delay is because Parliament must first reclassify marijuana under the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act before any changes in penalties can take place. Under the proposed plan -- which has been endorsed by Parliament's Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee and the Police Foundation, among others -- marijuana will be reclassified from a Class B to a Class C drug, the least harmful category of illicit drugs under British law.

Once reclassified, police will no longer have the legal authority to make arrests in cases involving the possession of small amounts of pot, unless there are aggravating factors present.

This week's announcement from the Home Office is a departure from statements made by the Secretary in October of 2001 when he announced that marijuana's reclassification would be enacted by an executive order, not legislatively. At that time, Blunkett implied the change could come within several months. Last summer, he revised that time frame, but reaffirmed plans to reclassify cannabis by this July.

Marijuana smokers are expected to receive a warning from police if they possess three grams or less of cannabis once the new law takes effect.

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Issue #293, 6/27/03

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