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Friday, 12 July, 2002, 09:57 GMT 10:57 UK
Cannabis: Should it be reclassified?
The Home Secretary David Blunkett has announced measures to downgrade penalties for the possession and dealing of cannabis.

The controversial announcement follows a pilot scheme in Lambeth, south London, where those found carrying small amounts of cannabis were given a warning by police, rather than prosecuted.

Figures from Scotland Yard last month showed street crime in Lambeth had fallen dramatically. Scotland Yard's Deputy Commissioner Ian Blair, last week said the pilot scheme was "undoubtedly" beneficial to the police.

However community leaders, local police officers and local residents have all pointed out that the experiment has caused a significant increase in drug dealing of all kinds in Brixton.

What do you think of this softly, softly approach to cannabis? Do you fear it will encourage drug use, particularly in the young, sending out the wrong message about drugs? Or is it a sensible approach?

This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Despite the hype, cannabis is still illegal

Graeme, UK
I am a serving member of the RAF and as such have to agree to a periodic drug test. If I am found to have consumed any illegal substance, including cannabis, I automatically lose my job. The reason for this is quite simple, the drug is illegal. We all need a structured legal system to follow and despite the hype, cannabis is still illegal. People can argue until they're blue in the face about how dangerous it is but one thing remains, according to our laws - it's illegal. If the government had legalised it then there would be a cause for debate, but they haven't.
Graeme, UK

The reclassification is a step in the right direction, but as long as people are still criminalised for using, supplying or producing cannabis, the state is restricting our liberties in this area for no good reason. The arguments for cannabis prohibition have never stood up to scrutiny, and it's time the government admitted it.
Fergus Murray, UK

The only people who benefit from making anything illegal are the bad guys. It is predictable that anything that is outlawed will encourage the formation of dealers, smugglers and distributors who will stop at nothing to ply their trade. I chose to stop buying cannabis (despite thoroughly enjoying it) because of that rather than any reservations about its short or long term effects either on me or society. If drugs were legal there would be fewer adulterated drugs on the market and it would be possible to identify and sue the supplier. The current laws benefit only people it is best not to trade with.
Mik, UK

Reclassifying? Decriminalising? This has to be one of the craziest ideas to ever be considered, let alone adopted as law.

I disregard the current law as it is a completely irrational, uninformed approach

Paul, UK
Like many others, I have smoked cannabis since I was 18. I went to university, got a decent job and am now moving on to an even better one. I have always been law abiding, never drop litter, hold doors for people - but apparently, I am a criminal. Cannabis has had no bad effects on my life, only positive. I have never been ill from it, craved it or been addicted. It's a pleasurable, social experience that is no worse than having a glass of wine with a meal, or an ice cream on a sunny day. I disregard the current law as it is a completely irrational, uninformed approach.
Paul, UK

I gather Mr Blunkett intends to raise the maximum sentence for dealing cannabis, from five to 14 years, once cannabis is downgraded. As the law stands simply passing a joint to a friend, or enough cannabis to make one, is considered supplying or dealing. So in theory a judge could lock me up for 14 years for passing a joint. It's getting worse not better! I smoke cannabis. I have done so for 16 years. I am not, in my eyes, a criminal.
Lee Harris, England

There are completely biased anti-drug opinions here, typical of large numbers of people around the world and especially the British establishment who just will not listen to what users are telling them, because they have blinkered opinions foisted on them by pressure groups. These opinionated people frequently have no idea what they are talking about, only half-baked ideas. The real truth is that cannabis is a non-addictive drug. You cannot kill yourself by smoking or eating cannabis. Just try drinking a pint of whiskey, available legally at millions of shops anywhere in this country, right now. Now that could kill you.
Phil, UK

I'm a family doctor. Every day of every week I see people die and suffer horribly as a result of taking drugs. These drugs are alcohol and tobacco. I have yet to see a case of cannabis addiction and certainly the wards and surgeries remain free from cannabis-related deaths and illnesses. Those of you who drink and smoke tobacco are supported in the NHS and we try to help you overcome your addictions. Legalising cannabis would be sensible. Why should drug dealers make so much money and have contact with our young?
Sion, UK

Education is required following the legalisation of cannabis through licensed cafes. Harder drugs should remain illegal and the dealers dealt with severely.
Olly Smith, UK

Legalisation doesn't seem to have helped Holland's hard drugs problem

Mark, UK
One thing I have noticed when in Amsterdam is that hard drugs are more readily and openly dealt on the street particularly in the old town. This seems to fly in the face of the seemingly quite sensible argument that legalising/decriminalising and selling cannabis on licensed premises will eradicate the "gateway" effect. It seems to be that when people go to the areas where the licensed premises are, they are looking for drugs - whether they are legal or not. So, legalisation doesn't seem to have helped Holland's hard drugs problem and may have, if anything, made it worse.
Mark, UK

Let's put aside the libertarians' propaganda and look at the facts: A joint of cannabis deposits four times as much tar in the lungs as a cigarette; cannabis users are 60 times more likely to go on to use hard drugs than non-users; and the experiment in Lambeth caused a significant increase in drug dealing which local residents disliked. Do we really want to tell our young people that this is all OK? Anti-drugs legislation not only benefits the ignorant would-be user, but also helps stem the tide of our disintegrating society.
Alistair, USA (British citizen)

Instead of this token gesture of reclassification, the government should decriminalise or simply remove all laws regarding cannabis, its just a herb for damn sakes. Decriminalise and allow people to grow small amounts at home this is one way to end the dealers of cannabis.
Ben, UK

Decriminalizing without allowing legal sale just puts tons of (tax free!) money in the pockets of criminals. Dutch cafes are supplied on the black market. Ironic that most of the people smoking dope there would loudly & proudly boycott any legal company employing even a tiny fraction of the thuggery of the drug gangs that brought them that finest green. Legalize it completely or keep it illegal.
Keith, Canada

We must begin to make all access to drugs more difficult

Sean Clipperton, USA
It is about time all drugs are reclassified. This includes alcohol. As simple as it sounds recreational drugs are bad and do not benefit society. They exist today solely because of the profit they raise and the taxes, if they are legal, they produce. We must begin to make all access to drugs more difficult with higher prices, harsher penalties, and greater ridicule of abusers and takers. Let the young generation see the truth behind drugs and how takers and abusers are not victims, but social criminals.
Sean Clipperton, USA

I recently went over to live in Holland for several months for a contract in IT. Up until then I had been starting to suffer some health problems due to alcohol misuse. When I went over I stopped drinking completely and took up smoking/eating cannabis regularly. My health problems stopped and I became more happy with my life and far more well adjusted. I'm now back in England, I can't get any decent hash to smoke anymore and subsequently I am back on the bottle again. Go figure...
David , London

I smoke and buy cannabis on a regular basis. The only thing that bothers me morally is the fact that I have to buy this from a drug dealer. If cannabis was legalised this would take the backbone out of this country's drug business. I also think that it would stop a lot of would be drug dealers, I have known so may people who have started off selling enough hash to pay for their personal use go on to selling ecstasy and speed to start making real money from it. I'm sure it would also free up plenty of police time to deal with the repercussions of class A substance abuse eg. mugging and other street crime
Beccie, UK

I took cannabis when I was a teenager. And, sorry, it is addictive but I managed to get off it before being dragged into the heaver stuff. I would classify it as a hard drug and no relaxation of the law.
Paul, England

Cannabis is only a gateway drug because in order to get it, you need to go to a dealer

Iain, UK
Cannabis is only a gateway drug because in order to get it, you need to go to a dealer, whose profit lies in selling the harder, addictive drugs such as heroin and cocaine. It's time to break the link, legalise cannabis completely and take the influence away from the criminal drug dealers.
Iain, UK

Marijuana is less harmful than alcohol. For me, that is the end of the argument. Why waste taxpayers' money and the police's valuable time on a substance that is not addictive, therapeutic to some, and less harmful than some legal products? It makes no sense whatsoever.
Ali, Canada

Cannabis is a relatively harmless drug, especially when compared to tobacco and alcohol which kill tens of thousands people every year. It is profoundly hypocritical for a government to profit by huge tax revenues from dangerous but legal drugs and then make a relatively harmless drug illegal. Making it illegal only channels huge amounts of money to the criminals who supply it and make hundreds of thousands of users, who are otherwise law abiding, into criminals. In any event, making a drug illegal does not and never will prevent people from using them, so what is the point in turning the users into criminals?
David Lehurst, UK

Many get hot under the collar when considering large tobacco firms. Correct me if I'm wrong but doesn't cannabis smoking also involve inhaling many poisonous and cancer causing chemicals? The way some liberal minded people describe it, one would sometimes believe they are talking about a "wonder-herb". Of course it should be banned and the Police should enforce this with zero-tolerance if need be. Take a lesson from the USA.
Derek, England

The government is only making it easier for dealers to make money

Chris, England
I agree that it shouldn't be reclassified, it should be legalised. By declassifying it, the government is only making it easier for dealers to make money. Surely the government wouldn't say no to the sort of revenue that could be made from cannabis? It would certainly put most of the "small time" dealers out of business, and sever the close tie that cannabis has with other drugs. People who smoke pot shouldn't be made out to be hardened criminals, that's quite simply unfair.
Chris, England

The dealers won't be off the streets until proper licensed cafes are allowed to open. Their blind approach is only saving police time and is encouraging other dealers to come across from less protected areas. They've created a problem that needn't exist.
Ian, UK

I live in Lambeth, and am very supportive of the measures, but I agree with the people who have suggested that the measures don't go far enough. Cannabis should be legalised; it would save a lot of time and effort, as well as decriminalising a whole generation. The government's attempt to placate the 'zero tolerance' bullies with longer sentences for dealers is likely to backfire badly, putting off 'casual' friendly dealers, and providing no incentive for dealers to stick to softer drugs. If the punishment for cannabis and heroin is the same, and heroin has a far higher profit margin, it's easy to see which option will seem more attractive to the unscrupulous.
Andrew T, UK

It is difficult enough to provide suitable aftercare for patients that misuse cannabis

Debbie, England
I am appalled to hear that cannabis could be reclassified. As a psychiatric nurse I have seen an increase over the past few years in the amount of patients with a forensic history relating to drug misuse. There are also more patients entering the healthcare system with a dual diagnosis as a result of drug misuse. It is difficult enough to provide suitable aftercare for patients that misuse cannabis. Many patients are affected very badly by the smallest amount, becoming very paranoid, angry, aggressive, and posing a grave risk to others and themselves. No one gives a thought to the patients who will just get pasted from pillar to post and for many this will just reinforce their belief that the system has failed them and give no hope of a brighter future.
Debbie, England

To Debbie, the psychiatric nurse: a small percentage of people should not smoke pot because they suffer an adverse reaction to it. I sympathise, but hat's not a reason to ban it for the majority. You could apply the same logic to peanuts, because of peanut allergies.

Like it or not, a lot of people will tonight smoke and enjoy cannabis with no ill effects, apart from a little overeating. They already have a moral right to smoke pot and should have a similar legal right.
Roland E. Oderant, England

It shouldn't be reclassified it should be completely legalised. It may or may not be harmful but it is certainly not as harmful as other drugs on the market eg alcohol. This is a civil liberties issue, anyone who has ever been convicted for possession of cannabis related offences should expect an official apology from the state.
Martin, UK

I think that downgrading cannabis is just opening the door to downgrading other drugs. Today it's cannabis, tomorrow it's cocaine! So now we're saying its okay for you to carry it but not okay for you to smoke it? Come on, we have to draw the line somewhere. And in response to Martin's email: only a cannabis smoker would hold that opinion! I strongly disagree. Cannabis should not be legalised, it is a drug and there's no disputing that fact. Advocating its legalisation is the same as advocating violence and disruption in our society. Let's not lose what little moral high ground we have left.
Tracey Machher, Zimbabwe/UK

It will save a huge amount of police time

Pete Blacker, UK
People who consider smoking cannabis don't care what the law says when deciding, so no this will not increase cannabis use. Holland where cannabis is decriminalised, has lower cannabis use than the UK. It will save a huge amount of police time and money, and present a more mature attitude toward this form of recreation.
Pete Blacker, UK

Diseases caused by such problems should not be treated freely under the NHS. They should pay extra so as to put people off taking such actions without thinking of the consequences. Same with Alcohol and Smoking.
Wayne P, UK

Whether cannabis is legalised or not is irrelevant. People will still use it. If anyone is under the influence of drugs or alcohol while driving they should lose their licence for a minimum of 10 years and if they are responsible for an accident which has caused injury or death, they should be banned for life and the vehicle confiscated.
C Burns, England

As a resident of Brixton and someone who uses cannabis on a regular basis I have witnessed an increase in the 'pushing' of harder drugs especially ecstasy. The majority of dealers sell class A drugs under the guise of being cannabis dealers and are thus virtually free from police actions. Regardless of what is said I believe cannabis is a gateway drug and the softer approach will eventually lead to greater drug problems
Charlie Sawyer, England

In Amsterdam there are over 700 coffee shops where it is legal to purchase a wide variety of puff to smoke/eat on the premises or to take away and use at home and it's illegal to sell it on the streets. From what I saw locals and tourists sit in bars drinking booze and/or smoking dope and it all seems very relaxed and unproblematic. We should adopt a similar scheme here, confining purchase of dope to licensed premises and arresting illegal street traders.
Crozby, UK

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