Smith Makes Cannabis Upgrade Official after Ignoring Drug Advisers

By Bentham, Martin | The Evening Standard (London, England), May 7, 2008 | Go to article overview
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Smith Makes Cannabis Upgrade Official after Ignoring Drug Advisers


Bentham, Martin, The Evening Standard (London, England)


JACQUI SMITH today defied the Government's own drugs advisers by confirming that cannabis is to be reclassified as a class B substance.

The Home Secretary told MPs that the reform was intended to send a message to the public amid concern about the drug's links to mental illness.

Her decision came despite a recommendation by the Home Office's Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs that cannabis should retain its current class C status because there is no scientific evidence to justify a change.

The council's chairman, Professor Sir Michael Rawlins, warned that reclassification would make "no difference" to the level of cannabis use in Britain and said the solution to problems caused by the drug was "more complicated and subtle" than ministers suggested.

"Changing the classification of cannabis is neither warranted nor will it achieve the desired effect," he said.

Instead, Sir Michael said a "widescale public health response" was needed, including better education and treatment.

In a further snub to the Home Secretary and Gordon Brown, who ordered the change in cannabis's status, the advisory council's top scientist,

Professor David Nutt, described the reclassification as "naive".

The criticism came as the Home Secretary announced formally in Parliament that cannabis will be raised from class C to class B status. Possession of the drug will carry a sentence of up to five years in jail, rather than the current two-year maximum, although there will be no change to the potential 14-year penalty for dealers.

Ms Smith told MPs her decision was prompted by the prevalence of high strength "skunk" which now "dominates the cannabis market".

"I want it to be clearly understood that this powerful form of cannabis is an illegal and harmful drug," she said.

"There is a compelling case for us to act now, rather than risk the future health of young people.

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