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Europe: Britain to Review Marijuana's Classification, Could Be Moved Back to Tougher Drug Schedule

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #494)
Consequences of Prohibition
Drug War Issues
Politics & Advocacy

New British Prime Minister Gordon Brown told parliament Tuesday that his government will reconsider whether marijuana should remain a Class C drug (steroids, minor tranquilizers) or should be treated more harshly and considered a more dangerous Class B drug (amphetamines, barbiturates). The move comes as the opposition Conservatives have called for rescheduling and amidst a sustained media scare campaign linking marijuana to mental illness.

The government of then-Prime Minister Tony Blair downgraded marijuana to Class C in January 2004, which largely made marijuana possession a non-arrestable offense. But the move has been controversial since its inception, and has already been reviewed twice before. The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), which is charged with the new review, also reviewed the decision last year, but found the risks were not severe enough to merit reclassification. Similarly, former Home Secretary Charles Clarke commissioned a review of the decision, but decided in January 2005 to keep marijuana in Class C.

"We will be asking the ACMD to review the classification of cannabis, given the increase in strength of some cannabis strains and their potential harm," the Home Office said Wednesday. "It would be wrong to prejudge that review which shows how seriously we take our priority of reducing drug-related harm."

The opposition Tories, who are calling for a harder line on drug policy, said they would support reclassification. "We would welcome the reclassification of cannabis," said Shadow Home Secretary, David Davis. "Drugs are a scourge on society and a major cause of crime which Labor has failed to tackle. We have long called for the reclassification of cannabis based on the science and evidence available which shows all too clearly the real damage this drug can do to people -- especially young people."

While drug policy groups differed in their responses to the Brown government's announced review, none supported reclassification. Instead, such groups called for the review to be viewed in the context of a broader review of drug policy as the British government's 10-year drug plan ends in 2008.

"This announcement is all about political posturing, and has nothing to do with science," said a spokesman for the Transform Drug Policy Institute. "It follows in the wake of a series of all-too-familiar cannabis health panics, which have been hyped up by certain newspapers and more recently the Tory party who have been vocally calling for reclassification back to B."

The review of marijuana classification was redundant, Transform argued. "In reality the potency issue and the mental health issues associated with cannabis are well understood and have not changed significantly since they were last reviewed by the ACMD in 2005. The ACMD will not be happy to have to rake over the coals yet again: there is no evidence to warrant another time consuming review, and even if there were, there is also no evidence to suggest another reclassification would reduce harm.

It is not marijuana's classification but its criminalization that is the problem, the group said. "Classification appears to be entirely irrelevant to levels of use, or associated harms; Since the move from B to C in 2004, cannabis use has continued its slow decline, according to data from the British Crime Survey," Transform noted. "It is the criminalization of cannabis, and the unregulated illegal markets this creates, that is responsible for increasing the harms associated with its supply and use. If the Government is serious about reducing harm they should legally regulate the trade and use their limited resources to educate young people about the risks."

Rethink, an organization that concentrates on mental health issues, didn't call for legalization but for a public health campaign to warn of the mental health dangers of the weed. Paul Corry, Rethink's director of public affairs, says:

"We welcome the review of the government's drugs strategy and fully expect it to endorse the now accepted link between high risk groups using cannabis and the development of severe mental illness," said Paul Corry, the group's director of public affairs in a Wednesday press release "The strategy should look back at past government promises of a high profile, sustained public health campaign on the issue and ask 'what happened to it?'"

But while Rethink emphasized the dangers of marijuana consumption, the group did not see reclassification as the answer. "Although there has been renewed interest in yet again reclassifying cannabis, the experiences of our members tell us that reintroducing tougher criminal penalties for possession and use would do nothing to reduce use," said Corry. "What most people who have experienced the misery of developing mental illness from using cannabis want to see is a properly funded health campaign, not harsher laws that end up criminalizing people who have developed a health problem."

For the past decade, Britain has been one step forward, one step back on marijuana policy. It looks like the political pressure is building for one step back again.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Anonymous (not verified)

Cannabis should not be re-classified.

Fri, 07/20/2007 - 5:37pm Permalink
David Dunn (not verified)

Some British politicians confessed to using marijuana:

Jacqui Smith Home Secretary
"I was wrong when I did it more than 25 years ago. I am not looking to excuse that."
Andy Burnham Chief Secretary to the Treasury
Used it "once or twice at university and never since".
Ruth Kelly Transport Secretary
Smoked it "in her youth [but] realised it was foolish and gave up".
John Hutton Business and Enterprise Secretary
"He smoked cannabis at university over 30 years ago. He regrets doing it."
Alistair Darling Chancellor
Smoked cannabis "occasionally in my youth".
Hazel Blears Communities Secretary
"I had cannabis from somebody that I knew and I never did it again because it didn't work.

The above is from The Independent, 7/21/07

Presumably, by confessing to using cannabis, these British politicians evidently believe that this exonerates them somehow.

Most didn't give any reason. Hazel Blears said, "It didn't work." Evidently she expected nothing and got nothing. In that case, it worked. She hasn't figured that out yet.

John Hutton said he "regrets doing it." Probably because he's now confessing to justify his actions based on ignorance.

Ruth Kelly said she realized it was "foolish." With no explanation we can only assume that she's as foolish now as she was then. That qualifies as a pre-existing condition.

If this is the best the Brits can do for politicians, they might as well select their politicians from a lottery. Certainly they couldn't do any worse than what they're now doing. The same could be said about the U.S. Congress and White House.

Maybe these Brits should read some of the cannabis-inspired writing of James Madison in the Federalist Papers or Thomas Jefferson's cannabis-inspired Declaration of Independence. Neither Madison nor Jefferson thought much of the Brits monarch. The Brits still cling to that archaic relic.

If that weren't bad enough, The Independent's writer, Mathew Norman wrote, "A spiff is one things – skunk quite another" (same issue)

Norman's personal testimony:

The last time I smoked skunk (and it was the last time; never again), I became convinced that I was trapped inside the body of a bassett hound, or possibly a beagle. For the next hallucinatory hour, I padded around an unfamiliar sitting room, pawing members of a family I didn't recognise, barking and howling in the desperate hope that they'd grasp the situation, and find a way of releasing me from canine bondage.

Had Norman done any research at all, he would've found that the Scythians had similar experiences some 2500-2600 years or so ago.

Herodotus wrote that the Scythians would heat stones, throw cannabis seeds on them, get it smoking then throw a blanket over the smoke, get under the blanket, apparently cavort around and come out howling like wolves.

Afterwards, they would get a rubdown with aromatic oils and spices. Presumably they wer naked. The Scythians weren't known for taking baths.

Perhaps had Norman got a rubdown with aromatic oils and spices while naked, he would be howling a different tune. Or might not be howling at all.

The Independent scraped the bottom of the barrel for this writer.

"The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only legitimate object of good government."

— Thomas Jefferson

Sun, 07/22/2007 - 12:25am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

It's sad to see how politicians are willing to resort to nothing short of lying to make cannabis look bad. It is true that there are "links", "associations" and "correlation" between (heavy) cannabis use and mental illnesses. It's even a scientific FACT.

What is debatable is, however, whether these correlations are causal in nature or not, or in other words: 1) does the initial use of cannabis precede all the problems and illnesses that those people exhibit, or 2) are there common factors causing both the mental illness, social and familial problems that individual faces.

The common factors hypothesis is, despite the sayings of politicians, the most compelling explanation. Causality has been attempted to be proved, but no scientisk has ever done so succesfully.

However, "links" of a correlational nature are psychologically irresistable for lay person to be interpreted as nature.

Tue, 07/24/2007 - 6:14am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Yop is gay fool

Wed, 02/06/2008 - 3:29pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

yoo dis jawnn to muchhh 2 read. cant dey just put it in couple of sentences???
its not like someone is gona read all of tht!

Wed, 02/13/2008 - 11:43pm Permalink

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