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  • Has the Government done a u-turn on cannabis? No. The classification of all drugs is kept under constant review. The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), which advises the Government, will make a formal study of the evidence, which has been published subsequent to reclassification, on cannabis and its association with mental health problems. The Council’s review will assess the latest evidence and the Government will await its recommendations before considering them fully. The Council intends to complete the review by its November 2005 meeting.
  • Is reclassification a failure? No. The reclassification of cannabis has allowed the police to focus a greater amount of resources on priority areas such as Class A drugs. All indications have been encouraging in terms of achieving a freeing up of police resources.
    Lots of young people who took cannabis since reclassification have had their mental health damaged.
    There is no evidence to say that cannabis use has increased since reclassification. The Government has maintained that cannabis is a harmful drug and that no one should take it.
  • Studies were published in Nov 2002 showing the link between mental illness and cannabis - why didn't the HO ask the ACMD to review the situation then? The ACMD report was published in March 2002 and took into account all evidence available at the time. They concluded there was no causal link between cannabis and mental health problems. Since then there have been a several reports published. It would be irresponsible not to review this evidence and ensure the Government's position is based on the latest advice from medical and scientific experts.
  • Doesn't this show the Home Office is concerned there's a link between cannabis and psychosis? It is up to the Advisory Council to consider all the relevant evidence and make their recommendations. They are an independent non-Departmental Public Body and the Government is required by law to first seek their views. At the time of the ACMD cannabis report in March 2002 they did not find sufficient evidence of a proven causal link between cannabis and mental health problems.
  • Is the Government going to reclassify cannabis back to Class B? It will await the outcome of the Advisory Council's deliberations. The Home Secretary will consider their recommendations carefully.
  • What studies will ACMD be considering? The main reports to be considered by ACMD include:
    • Ferguson/Horwood (New Zealand 2004) (published March 2005)
    • Van Os (Maastricht University) study of Munich students (2004)
    • MacLeod, Review of longitudinal studies (Lancet 2004)
    • Zammitt, Review of Swedish conscript study (2003)
    • Patton/Coffey (Australian study 2002)
    • Van Os, Cannabis Use and Psychosis (2002)
    • Arsenault, Cannabis use in adolescence (2002)
  • What did the Advisory Council say in their cannabis report about cannabis and mental health links? The Advisory Council considered the possible links between taking cannabis and mental illness and concluded that there was no proven causal link, although cannabis use can unquestionably worsen a mental illness which already exists. Heavy cannabis use can produce a psychotic state, though this is in most cases short lived. However, this has not been conclusively proven to be a causative association and might be explained by other factors. There is some evidence that young people with a vulnerability to later mental health problems may start cannabis younger than their peers, or may be more likely to use illegal drugs, including cannabis. Cannabis use can unquestionably worsen existing schizophrenia (and other mental illnesses) and lead to relapse in some patients. Its use should therefore be discouraged in all people with mental health problems.
    There were no mental health representatives on the Advisory Council (ACMD), when discussing reclassification of cannabis.
    Not the case. ACMD members, past and present, are drawn from a wide range of backgrounds and areas of expertise. As well as the experience and contribution of ACMD members, research and inquiries carried out by the ACMD are supplemented by the knowledge of numerous co-opted members to the committees.
    The Advisory Council meetings at the time of the discussion on cannabis reclassification were well attended by representatives from the fields of psychiatry and psychopharmacology.

  • Isn’t cannabis use rising? No. The British Crime Survey respondents aged 16-24 year old who report use of cannabis in the last year has fallen slowly since 1998 from 28.2% to 24.8% in 2003/4. The Schools Survey 2004 shows cannabis use amongst 11-15 year old steady at 13% between 2001-3 and falling to 11% in 2004.
  • Is cannabis much stronger now? Reports in the media that most cannabis is 20 times as strong as in the 1960s is false. However there are new strains of cannabis with high levels of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) being used in UK. Typically, these are grown hydroponically and are known as ‘skunk’ varieties of cannabis. The ACMD will be investigating the prevalence of these varieties and the harms presented by taking them.
  • What are the Dutch Government doing about their cannabis laws? The Dutch Government have embarked on a comprehensive review of their policy on cannabis. There is evidence of growing prevalence in The Netherlands of some cannabis users taking very high strength strains. They are considering whether cannabis above a certain strength should be a higher classification with higher penalties.
  • What are the Government doing about cannabis dealers? The Government takes a tough line on dealers because it seeks to protect the most vulnerable members of our society. The maximum penalty for trafficking cannabis remains at its former level of 14 years’ imprisonment. There are a number of cases of cannabis trafficking each year that involve amounts of half a tonne or more where sentences of significantly more than 5 years’ imprisonment are imposed: the courts need to continue to be able to impose substantial sentences in these cases. Many of these cases involve organised crime.
  • Young people are confused over whether they will be arrested for smoking. Those caught in possession of cannabis may plead ignorance but research shows that knowledge of the illegal status of cannabis amongst young people is high. The Home Office radio and poster advertising campaign in January 2004 stressed that cannabis was still illegal as it is a harmful drug. About 600,000 leaflets explaining the change have also been sent out. When the campaign was evaluated it was found that 93% of under 18s understood it was an illegal drug.
  • The Home Secretary said in 2000 (as a Home Office Minister) that “the most likely impact of a relaxation in the law would be to increase consumption . . . and I think that would be bad for the people concerned and bad for society"? To quote the Home Secretary correctly he said that “the main effect of decriminalisation or legalisation [of illicit drugs generally] would be an increase in the consumption of drugs” [12 April 2000]. He was not referring to reclassification.
  • Cannabis is a gateway to Class A drugs, so an increase in cannabis use will lead to increase in Class A use? The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs said that proving a causal link is extremely difficult due to the many confounding factors which might act as gateways, such as the use of alcohol, tobacco, solvents and stimulants. The great majority of cannabis users never move on to Class A drugs. Of course, the same can be said of alcohol. Large numbers of those who use Class A drugs have used alcohol to excess. But many people who use alcohol do not progress to any form of other drug.

  • We should legalise completely and break the link with the illegal dealers? The Government wants to reduce the use of cannabis, not to encourage it. While our drugs laws cannot be expected to eliminate drug misuse, the illegality of cannabis helps to deter experimentation. Legalisation may weaken the link between cannabis use and illegal dealers, but illegal dealers would not go away. They would continue to deal in Class A drugs and be involved in organised crime.
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