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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 23 October, 2001, 17:23 GMT 18:23 UK
Q&A: Cannabis reclassification
As Home Secretary David Blunkett is expected to announce an easing in the law on cannabis. BBC News Online explains what the change will mean in practice.

Does this mean I can now smoke cannabis legally? What if I am stopped on the way to a party with a small amount of the drug?

Cannabis is not being legalised.

Possession of the drug will remain a criminal offence, with a maximum prison sentence of two years.

The only real difference is that you will not be arrested and hauled off to the police station if you are found to be in possession of small quantities of the drug.

Instead, you will be given a warning, a caution or sent a court summons later.

What about dealers?

The penalty for dealing cannabis is likely to be a maximum of 10 years in prison.

There is also likely to be a new offence of "aggravated possession", which will allow people to be arrested for blatant public use of the drug.

Are we going to see cannabis cafes, as in some other countries?

No. Selling cannabis will remain a criminal offence and there will not be any "licensed" sellers.

It is simply being re-classified from a Class B to a Class C drug.

This will put it on the same legal level as steroids and anti-depressants. It is not legally possible to sell either of these drugs without a license.

Is David Blunkett going out on a limb by doing this?

Liberalisation of drug laws is one of those issues on which politicians lag some way behind the public - as well as behind much expert, academic and police opinion.

Drug of choice
Cannabis is the most widely-used drug in all age groups
44% of 16-29-year-olds used it at some time on their life
22% used it within the last year
14% used it within the last month
Source: 2000 British Crime Survey

But Mr Blunkett is still taking a political gamble.

His plans have been strongly criticised by Keith Hellawell, the government's former drugs czar, who says it will send out the wrong message to young people.

There are also mixed messages emerging from the London borough of Lambeth, where the "softly softly" approach to the drug has been trialled.

Arrests of hard drug dealers have increased in the borough, but some community leaders have said the policy has effectively handed control of the streets to dealers and led to an increase in drug use among the young.

This has led to Conservative calls for a government re-think.

When would the law change take effect?

It is likely to be the Autumn before the expected changes come into effect.

The home secretary does not need to pass new legislation in order de-classify cannabis, simply amend the 1972 misuse of drugs act.

But with such a short period of time left in the Parliamentary session, this is not likely to occur until the next session commencing in October.


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Lambeth scheme

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