BBC Home
Explore the BBC
Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 May 2008, 14:09 GMT 15:09 UK
Cannabis question
By Rajini Vaidyanathan
Newsbeat political reporter

Someone rolling a cannabis joint
Health experts have linked cannabis to mental illness

The government says cannabis is to be upgraded from Class C to the more serious Class B with tougher penalties for people caught using or dealing.

This is despite official government advisers saying it is not harmful enough to be upgraded.

Announcing the change, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said it was because of concerns over the possible impact of stronger types of cannabis, including "skunk", on people's mental health.

Stu, in Bristol, disagrees with stricter punishment for users.

He told Newsbeat: "I've smoked cannabis every day for the last four years and my mental health is as good as ever."

Others agree with him, saying they smoke the drug on a regular basis and it doesn't do them any harm.

Stricter penalties

But Lesley, in Oxford, who texted in, disagrees.

"Cannabis should be made Class B as it is dangerous and at present is just being accepted by society as normal," she added.

The debate among our listeners reflects the argument that's going on about this subject in the world of politics.

We are seeing more young people than ever who have developed psychosis or schizophrenia following heavy cannabis use
Rebecca, psychiatric nurse
Shortly after Mr Brown entered Number 10 last year he ordered a review into whether cannabis should be reclassified from a Class C to a Class B drug.

But the group advising him disagrees.

The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, in its report published on Wednesday, said it did not think cannabis should be reclassified.

This team of advisers has been studying new research on cannabis from Keele University about the links between the drug and mental illness.

This study doesn't seem to back up claims that rising use of cannabis between the 1970s and 1990s has led to more cases of schizophrenia.

But the government is effectively ignoring the council's advice by upgrading the drug.

MAXIMUM DRUG PENALTIES
Class A: Seven years for possession, life for supplying
Class B: Five years for possession, 14 for supplying
Class C: Two years for possession, 14 for supplying

As things stand, in most cases if you get caught with cannabis you don't get arrested, but you could get up to two years in prison.

When it is reclassified as Class B, it will mean stricter penalties for possession.

Some Newsbeat listeners told us they've been cannabis smokers for years but say it hasn't affected their health.

Drug dangers

Lee, in Scotland, said: "I've smoked the strongest weed for five years now and I'm more sane than my friends who don't smoke it."

Daniel, from Banbury, also believes "smoking cannabis is better than going out in the town binge drinking and causing trouble in the streets".

But some people disagree and believe the drug does pose a danger.

Rebecca, from Halifax, is a psychiatric nurse. She said: "We are seeing more young people than ever who have developed psychosis or schizophrenia following heavy cannabis use."

Man smoking a spliff
Government advisers studied new research on cannabis

David, in Weston-Super-Mare, who was a long term cannabis smoker, also believes the drug is addictive.

He said: "I was a heavy, long term, cannabis smoker and regardless of how we're told it's not addictive, if I didn't have any I would get severe mood swings and even quite aggressive towards friends and family.

"After several years of use I was left suffering from panic attacks and severe anxiety."

The change is bound to please as many as it upsets.

The last time there was a change in the cannabis laws was in 2004, when it was downgraded from a Class B to a Class C.

Then Home Secretary David Blunkett believed the move would free police to spend more time cracking down on harder drugs.



SEE ALSO
Boris leads Conservative charge
Tuesday, 6 May 2008, 15:06 GMT |  The P Word
Inside Afghanistan's 'heroin fields'
Thursday, 1 May 2008, 06:38 GMT |  Newsbeat
Afghanistan diary: day six
Friday, 2 May 2008, 06:40 GMT |  Newsbeat

RELATED BBC LINKS

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


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites.