BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 November 2007, 14:04 GMT
Police reconsider cannabis stance
Policewoman in cannabis factory
Around 2,000 cannabis factories were raided last year in the UK
Senior police officers are calling for cannabis to be reclassified from a class C to a class B drug.

Three years ago the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) supported the drug's downgrading, but now wants a return to the previous position.

Tim Hollis, chairman of Acpo's drugs committee, said downgrading cannabis had sent out the wrong signals.

Acpo is also concerned about the number of cannabis "factories" that have sprung up across the country.

Organised crime

Mr Hollis said organised criminals now viewed the UK as a potential place to produce cannabis.

He said: "Some people are targeting the UK because they see it's financially worthwhile.

Any decision regarding the drug's classification needs to take account of the potential damage to the estimated 800 people each year who, without cannabis, would not have developed psychotic illness
Marjorie Wallace, Sane

"We've got to increase the risk of being raided by the police and send a clear message out that cannabis is a drug, we do take it seriously, and we will tackle those people who try to trade in drugs."

Police say any reclassification would not necessarily change the way that they currently police possession of cannabis, although that may be reviewed in the light of any reclassification.

Mr Hollis said the emphasis should be on targeting dealers, rather than criminalising people who use cannabis recreationally.

Acpo will give its evidence relating to its new position to the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, which is due to report to the Home Office next Spring.

Consultations

A Home Office spokesperson said the government would decide, probably next summer, whether or not to reclassify cannabis following consultations with both the advisory council and the public.

But the Home Office is stressing that since cannabis was downgraded in 2004, there has been a "steady fall" in the use of the drug.

It quotes research from the government-funded Information Centre that says cannabis use among children aged between 11 and 15 has fallen since 2004.

The drugs charity Release criticised Acpo's new stance, saying reclassification "would make no difference" to people's decision whether they smoked cannabis or not.

Niamh Eastwood, Release's head of legal services, said: "The latest figures show that young people are smoking less cannabis. On the other hand, the consumption of alcohol and cocaine is rising."

Mental illness

One factor which is thought to have influenced Acpo's new stance is new supposed evidence of a link between heavy cannabis use and mental illness.

On Tuesday police chiefs at an Acpo drugs conference heard that "super-strength" cannabis helps cause memory deficits and psychotic illnesses like schizophrenia.

Younger people, whose brains are still developing, are thought to be especially vulnerable to the drug's effects.

Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of the mental health charity SANE, said: "Any decision regarding the drug's classification needs to take account of the potential damage to the estimated 800 people each year who, without cannabis, would not have developed psychotic illness."

But Ms Eastwood from Release said the links between cannabis and mental illness were not proven.

"There has been no dramatic increase in the incidence of schizophrenia over the past 40 years, despite the fact that cannabis use has risen," she said.



SEE ALSO
Increase in cannabis farm raids
20 Nov 07 |  Glasgow, Lanarkshire and West
Vietnamese cannabis gang jailed
19 Nov 07 |  England
Judges given cannabis guidelines
02 Nov 07 |  Scotland

RELATED BBC LINKS

RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites



FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

PRODUCTS & SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific