Source: BBC Online

Thursday 19 Jan 2006

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The home secretary has decided against reversing the decision two years
ago to downgrade cannabis to a class C drug.

Charles Clarke said he accepted the drug could trigger serious mental
illness but pledged a publicity campaign to warn of the dangers.

He also announced a wholesale review of the way drugs are classified.

The Conservatives described Mr Clarke's decision not to reclassify
cannabis as a "tragedy" but it was "strongly welcomed" by the Liberal
Democrats.

'Confusion'

Mr Clarke told MPs the decision was supported by police and most drug
and mental health charities.

Mr Clarke's proposals to review the classification of drugs - which will
be detailed in a consultation paper - could lead to a complete overhaul
of the system.

He said the existing system - of Class A, B and C substances - could
confuse people and had led some to misinterpret the downgrading of cannabis.

Mr Clarke said he will launch a major public information campaign to
stress that cannabis was "anything but harmless".

'Strongly welcomed'

He also said that draft guidelines published in November which would
have allowed people to carry up to half a kilogram of leaf cannabis for
"personal use" will be watered down.


"Everyone needs to understand that cannabis is harmful and it is
illegal," he told MPs. "Our education and health campaigns will clearly
transmit that message."

Mr Clarke will also order police forces to clamp down on cannabis
producers and dealers, a move welcomed by the Association of Chief
Police Officers.

The inquiry will also look into the classification of "date-rape" drugs
including GHB and Rohypnol.

Liberal Democrat home affairs correspondent Mark Oaten said his party
"strongly welcomed" the decision not to reclassify cannabis.

Mr Oaten said he was pleased Mr Clarke had taken the decision "on
evidence rather than political pressure".

But shadow home secretary David Davis said Mr Clarke should have
"grasped the nettle", saying cannabis was a "gateway to... hard drugs".

"The fact that he has not followed through and taken the new evidence
into account is both a missed opportunity for him, but more importantly
a tragedy for many thousands of young lives," he said.

Warning

Concerns about a link between super-strength cannabis varieties and
mental illness have mounted since Mr Clarke's predecessor David Blunkett
downgraded the drug in January 2004, making cannabis possession a
non-arrestable offence in most cases.

According to the Home Office, most offences of cannabis possession by
adults resulted in a police warning given on the spot, and confiscation
of the drug.

There is a presumption against arrest, except where public order is at
risk, where children are vulnerable or for repeat offenders. Young
people under 18 are given a formal reprimand or warning at a police station.

Where conviction occurs, Class C drug possession carries a two-year
sentence, with 14 years for supplying the drug. In the case of Class B
drugs, possession carries a five-year sentence, with 14 years for supply


DRUG PENALTIES
Class A: Seven years for possession, life for supplying
Class B: Five years for possession, 14 for supplying
Class C: Two years for possession, 14 for supplying