Page last updated at 12:28 GMT, Wednesday, 7 May 2008 13:28 UK

Split opinion on cannabis debate

Man smoking a joint
Opinion is split about whether cannabis should be reclassified

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has decided to reclassify cannabis as a class B drug - despite the advice of officials.

The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs argued that cannabis should remain class C, to which it was downgraded under Tony Blair.

Here are the views of two people from both sides of the debate.

ANITA WILSON, FROM SHEFFIELD

Anita Wilson, 51, believes her family life has been destroyed because of the effects of her ex-partner smoking cannabis.

Anita Wilson
Anita thinks that cannabis should be reclassified

As a result she would like cannabis to be reclassified as a class A drug, but if that cannot happen she supports the reclassification to a class B.

Anita's ex-partner started smoking cannabis at the age of 14. He continued to smoke it regularly, until in his late 30s he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. He then continued to use cannabis to try to help block out his illness.

"He was smoking eight or nine ounces a week to the point where he had gone beyond using his cannabis to self medicate," said Anita.

"His dependency on the cannabis grew as his body became more and more resilient to it."

Anita lived with her partner and three children, but in 2006 she ended up in a women's refuge and her partner was sent to in prison.

"The paranoia was unbelievable. In the end the paranoia hits such highs that it completely wrecked the family.

"He accused me of poisoning him, we couldn't move the furniture because he was so paranoid and I wasn't even allowed to have a bath or wash my hair.

"We all suffered constant verbal abuse and my son had to be put in care because my partner was threatening him."

I think the cannabis should be a class A drug because I have seen the damage it has done
Anita Wilson

Anita said the situation culminated when her partner threatened to kill a social worker during a review meeting.

"He threatened to kill a social worker and then threatened to blow up the community mental health base.

"The bomb squad found enough chemicals in our garage to blow up the whole street."

Anita - who has now split from her partner - believes that for those who have a predisposition to mental problems cannabis speeds up the whole process and makes the effect more severe.

"His behaviour was all due to an excessive use of cannabis and the paranoia is causes," she said.

"If he hadn't smoked the cannabis things wouldn't have been so bad.

"I think the cannabis should be a class A drug because I have seen the damage it has done.

"I want reclassification because I think any deterrent is good.

"My partner had 24 cannabis plants growing at home because the drug laws had been relaxed and he wasn't worried about getting caught because he thought he would only get a caution."

MO VAILLANCOURT, FROM BROCKENHURT IN THE NEW FOREST

Mo Vaillancourt
Mo believes cannabis should not be reclassified

Mo's son Jake started smoking cannabis at the age of 13 or 14 and experienced mental problems when he was 16.

"It was peer group pressure that made him start smoking cannabis and he was smoking stronger and stronger stuff until eventually he was smoking skunk," he said.

"When he was 16 he had a psychotic episode and was sectioned into an adult ward at a secure mental hospital. It was traumatising for the whole family. "

Jake spent time in an adolescent unit and a couple of years later ended up back in the adult mental health ward, but his father said he has been on a path of recovery ever since.

Mr Vaillancourt, 56, is against anyone smoking cannabis as a result of what has happened to his son - but he does not believe reclassification of the drug will help stop people smoking it.

"If I could wind the clock back I would make sure Jake had stayed away from cannabis," he said.

"Without the cannabis it is unlikely that Jake would have had a psychotic episode. But I don't think the legal status of the drug would make any difference and it should be left as a class C drug."

"The figures show that since it has been reclassified to a C the numbers of people smoking it has gone down.

"I think the vast amount of money spent on reclassification would be better used if it was spent on education.

"This would capitalise on the feeling that I believe is out there that cannabis is dangerous and does cause mental health problems."


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