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Tuesday, 30 October, 2001, 12:18 GMT
Should cannabis laws be relaxed?
Cannabis laws relaxed
The penalties for supplying or possessing cannabis have been drastically reduced in the UK.

Home Secretary David Blunkett told a Home Affairs select committee that people caught with the drug will no longer be arrested, but will receive a warning, a caution or a summons to court.

Cannabis will remain illegal, although it is to be reclassified from a Class 'B' drug to a Class 'C' one - putting it alongside steroids and mild amphetamines.

The announcement marks an about-turn in Government policy.

Last year, Jack Straw rejected a Police Federation inquiry into drugs by Dame Ruth Runciman which recommended a relaxation in the laws regarding cannabis.

Do you think the government has made the right decision? Should cannabis be decriminalised completely? Or is this a step in the wrong direction?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

Policy makers are always 20 or 30 years behind the times

Kate W, England
The law is irrelevant in this case. Those who wish to smoke, smoke. When a law is irrelevant and only succeeds in making criminals of many educated people, the law needs to change not the people. Cannabis will eventually become legalised, just as abortion was in the 1960s. Policy makers are always 20 or 30 years behind the times. Legalisation does not mean everyone will be puffing on the streets, simply that people will continue to do what they have always done in their homes but without the possibility of the taxpayer facing a huge bill for their incarceration.
Kate W, England

There are two reasons why cannabis use can lead on to other, more harmful substances. First, cannabis users are forced to buy their supplies from drug dealers, the same people who sell crack and smack. Second, society keeps telling cannabis users that their drug of choice is hardly different from crack and smack. They know that cannabis is OK, so they assume the government is lying about the other drugs. Neither of these reasons would apply if cannabis were legally available.
Frank, UK

Cannabis can cause cancer. Do we really want to licence something that is likely to add to NHS problems? If you want to get high, take a walk in the hills.
Peter, UK

Employers should retain the right to insist on having cannabis-free staff

Hazel, UK
By all means legalise cannabis for private use - this is long overdue. At the same time, a law and guidelines should be introduced, on par with the current intoxication laws. Anyone incapable of standing, being unruly or not being able to carry out required duties due to imbibing cannabis should be punished, as they are for drunken and disorderly behaviour. Also, employers should retain the right to insist on having cannabis-free staff, and the staff themselves the right to work in a cannabis-free environment.
Hazel, UK

Virtually every society in the world has developed some means of intoxicating itself, be it through drink or drugs. I've no problem with anybody taking cannabis as long as measures are put in place to stop people driving while under the influence. The only reason that no government takes a realistic stance on this issue is that they care too much about being seen to do the right thing than actually doing the right thing. Cannabis isn't the thin edge of the wedge. The people I know who take cannabis aren't inclined to take anything harder. Nicotine is more of a gateway drug than cannabis will ever be.
John, UK

Absolutely legalise it. It has had a long history as a remedy of many ailments, including the terrible affliction MS, for thousands of years. It is stupid bureaucracy that has made a wonderful thing illegal. I think because it is also an excellent anti-depressant and probably a competitor to the big drug companies producing stuff like Prozac.
Farook Razzak, Spain

I do not want to be subjected to the risk posed by a stoner behind a steering wheel

Blewyn, UK
If a person is found to be a regular cannabis user, what should be done regarding their driver's licence, or their eligibility for dangerous work such as fighting fires, fighting crime, operating machinery or cranes and working on building sites ? All these activities require unimpaired reaction times, co-ordination and agility. What will be the sentence for a person found guilty of causing an accident while under the influence of cannabis? I do not want to be subjected to the risk posed by a stoner behind a steering wheel.
Blewyn, UK

Go into a supermarket or into your local liquor store, and with little money you will be able to buy a lethal dose of alcohol - completely legally. Think about it - and about how many people have died of cannabis overdose (0) - next time you vote for some hypocrite who wants to "keep your kids off drugs".
Adam, Austria

Will there be amnesty for people imprisoned or previously convicted on cannabis charges?

Matt Nailon, UK
The current level of cannabis users between 900,000 and 5 million people represents a considerable minority of otherwise law-abiding people (quite a similar figure to the number of regular church-goers). Concerns of the informed and intelligent cannabis users regarding decriminalisation are:

  • If the infrastructure of supply is removed from organised crime, who is going to effectively maintain supply at the current levels of demand?
  • Will there be amnesty for people imprisoned or previously convicted on cannabis charges?
  • Will cannabis be taxed?
  • Who will make most profit - the growers, wholesalers or the government?
    Matt Nailon, UK

    Bad move. There is a reason why it is called dope !!
    Gary Kelt, England

    If they legalised tomorrow, one good shipment of herb would write off our island's debts!

    Brendan, Colombia
    Neal's comment that decriminalisation will lead to more power for terrorists is completely bogus. Many problems in drug producing nations are directly related to criminal policies. If I can buy a kilo of coke for $1000 dollars here and sell it for 150 times the price in Europe; it goes some way to explaining the corrupting influence of drug production in the developing world. This progressive move can only be positive for developing countries as well as Britain. As one Jamaican put it: "If they legalised tomorrow, one good shipment of herb would write off our island's debts!"
    Brendan, Colombia

    This is madness

    David Beechey, South Africa
    The proposed 'down grade' of Cannabis is madness. This proposal will increase trade with dealers who also promote the sale of Class A drugs.
    David Beechey, South Africa

    No-one has yet mentioned the danger of progressing to harder drugs to get more of a 'high', or some of the medical dangers of using even soft drugs. And are we only going to enforce laws by consensus, and disobey laws we do not agree with? If we delve a bit deeper, why do people want to take these drugs anyway? What is the problem that makes us want to 'blow our minds'? There has been a flight from reason and thinking in the West for many years now, and weird spiritualities and altered states of consciousness induced by hallucinogenic drugs are a part of this. Legalisation of cannabis is one more example of dumbing-down the population into a stupor!
    Ken Beach, Germany

    If cannabis is legalised surely it will put more peer pressure on us kids to try it. I will be 12 in December, so there are more things that worry us, but being 'cool' is very important among young people. They will do anything to be cool, so it must not be legalised
    Leigh, England

    I just wish other governments would have the same approach.
    Lucian, Japan

    Holland happens to have an average heroin user age of 40+, whereas in this country the age is falling annually - below 20. Amongst cannabis smokers heroin is considered as taboo. I smoked cannabis and still graduated with a first in Pure Maths and went on to Oxbridge - so much for the damaged brain cells. I have never witnessed violence amongst cannabis users. Clearly, if cannabis is criminalized then it becomes a black market commodity like heroin. Youngsters looking for it will invariably come into contact with heroin and other hard drugs. Am I deluded or is the above simply common sense.
    P Merrick, UK

    The main "gateway drug" is actually nicotine

    Ornette Clennon, Scotland
    The main so-called "gateway drug" is actually nicotine. Research shows that over 90 percent of all drug users are actually smokers. As cannabis is usually smoked, it might seem that cannabis itself is the gateway, but research is beginning to show that this is not the case!
    Ornette Clennon, Scotland

    Thus far it seems that even when people actually stop bleating about drugs being bad and analyse the effects, they still can't put things into perspective. The comparison between alcohol and marijuana may be valid in that they both have few side effects if taken in small doses, but how many injuries at the weekends are attributed to angry weed smokers with a broken bottle?
    Pete, UK

    I feel really sorry for MS sufferers, and others who could benefit from prescribed cannabis. It is extremely hypocritical of any government to prevent a doctor from prescribing such a comparatively harmless drug when the same doctor can lawfully prescribe the use of morphine, a derivative of opium and a highly addictive substance. I hope that the relaxation of the law will allow these unfortunate people to now benefit from the medicinal effects of cannabis.
    David, Denmark

    I have been severely disabled and chronically ill with ME for four years and cannabis is the only drug or treatment I have found effective

    Zsa Zsa, UK
    I want cannabis completely decriminalised as soon as possible. I have been severely disabled and chronically ill with ME for four years now, and my consultant has confessed that it is unlikely my fibromyalgic pain will ever be a thing of the past. Whilst there is no cure for ME as yet, cannabis is the only drug or treatment I have found effective to help me feel a bit better physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally and intellectually. Yes, I am still disabled, but I am much more able to enjoy a greatly restricted life with the use of cannabis, as are many chronically or terminally ill people with a wide range of illnesses. It must be decriminalised as soon as possible. It is a cheap and effective medicine.
    Zsa Zsa, UK

    If one is dealt more responsibility one is more likely to behave more responsibly. I am happy for those who have been suffering and can at last enjoy a few pain-free moments. I know what severe pain is like. For example, I had to vomit from pains but couldn't bend down to do so, leaving no dignity at all. I was told to drink whisky, which I also herald as a great analgesic, but more damaging than a couple of puffs on a joint. In future I will try both and see.
    Marianne, UK

    Some people who use alcohol are liable to use violence, abuse and other anti social behaviour. I have never seen this with cannabis use. You get the occasional attack of the chocolate craving variety and that's about it really. The sooner the politicians are brave enough to realise that a very large number of voters are in favour of legalisation, the Better.
    Sturt Gledhill, UK

    It is simply unbelievable that cannabis is still illegal in this country. There just isn't any excuse for keeping such a useful resource from the general public. The government is keen to tell us that cannabis is harmful to our health, but what about the positive effects? Cannabis is a brilliant and particularly beautiful plant and should be legalised immediately. The current state of affairs simply undermines police as having any credibility at all with young people when it comes to drugs. Legalisation is the only rational step now.
    Paul Haydin, UK

    I agree with Paul Haydin. The worst effect of making cannabis possession illegal is that it criminalizes young people that will try it anyway. If you want people to respect the law, then the law should be kept respectable.
    Ian, New Zealand

    Responsibility is the name of the game here and I am so pleased that we all are allowed to have some responsibility. We all know the arguments about tobacco and really there are no particular benefits in a cigarette, although there may well be in a hookah-pipe enriched with orange-blossoms. Perhaps, finally we are less afraid of what grows naturally. Like cloves and mushrooms for example. They have medicinal and therapeutic benefits, as in fact do poppy seeds and inhaled opium into a chest infection, with far less than antibiotics. Please, let's take this debate further, or is this what everyone was afraid of?
    Marianne, UK

    As a member of that minority of Americans that have never used any illegal drug, I believe that to criminalize drugs is insane. I base this in large part on the history of my nation's war on drugs crusade past and present. Despite the expenditure of billions of dollars in the present conflict, no scientific survey shows any success whatever. The war is lost and has been for a decade, yet, unlike prohibition it goes on. The only results are marked increases in criminal activity, organized crime, property crime and bullets flying about our streets. Drugs should be decriminalised and regulated. That would put the criminals out of business, protect our children and our property as our police agencies cannot.
    Roger Gerber, USA

    Legalisation will not remove the criminal element from the equation

    Neal, USA/UK
    Before we all start shouting for legalisation again, bear in mind that many of the world's drug producing nations are havens for terrorist groups, and they are funded by the proceeds. Legalisation will not remove the criminal element from the equation. Maybe it will on the local street dealer level, but not where it counts. Legalisation will certainly cause an increase in use and therefore more power to the terrorists in Colombia, Afghanistan, Turkey, Iran, and Lebanon, to name but a few.
    Neal, USA/UK

    Neal USA/UK: you say that by legalising cannabis we will still be funding terrorists. Have you not thought as I would say most people have that if it were to become legal or as near to it as possible that we dope smokers would most likely grow our own and even the government regulate its sale, thus ending the sponsorship of terrorists.
    Richie, UK

    To Neal USA/UK: If cannabis were legalized then why couldn't the government allow farmers to grow the stuff and then tax it just like we do with cigarettes? We wouldn't need to get it from another country. I don't see where it would profit the terrorist groups if our countries grow and supply our own. It would only be beneficial to the farmers and the economy.
    Phil, US

    This sends the wrong message to young people

    Arlene Fraser, Scotland
    While I think this is the back door to legalising cannabis, it sends the wrong message to young people. But then it will keep some people sweet. That's what the Labour Party does, after all.
    Arlene Fraser, Scotland

    Maybe at last our politicians will have the bottle to support Paul Flynn MP who has consistently failed in his many attempts to legalise cannabis. All Mr Blunkett has done is to make it politically acceptable for all to now support calls to end an unjust and extreme draconian law.
    Sigmund, Wales

    I have never smoked cannabis, and legal or illegal, never would. It simply doesn't appeal to me. That's my choice. But from what I've seen, people under the influence of cannabis are no worse behaved than those under the influence of alcohol and it's legal to sell that. Legalise it, stick a huge tax on it, like we do cigarettes and alcohol, and then leave it up to the individual whether they use it or not.
    Susan, USA

    That cannabis was ever lumped in with other drugs and made illegal was a travesty

    Marlon Fforde, UK
    That cannabis was ever lumped in with other drugs and made illegal was a travesty. The tax money we've wasted on arresting, putting on trial and even imprisoning users of this drug beggars belief. I have been an occasional cannabis smoker for the last 10 years and I can say the only crimes I've known it to ever be responsible for were to promote bad tastes in music, clothes and food.
    Marlon Fforde, UK

    Hopefully now cannabis will be legalised, and the majority of hard working people who smoke will not be classed as lawbreakers.
    Hayley, Manchester

    About time too. Now maybe the Police will have time to arrest the real criminals and vandals on our streets and concentrate on the Hard drug users.
    Neil, UK

    This is the first step towards legalisation

    Andrew Tulloch, UK
    It's about time the government stopped misrepresenting the "threat" cannabis causes. Hopefully, this is the first step towards legalisation for recreational and medicinal use. For the moment however, the hypocrisy stands, and the change in the law just means that vastly varying punishments, from a telling off to 2 years in jail, can be dealt out for this victimless crime.
    Andrew Tulloch, UK

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