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Page last updated at 11:52 GMT, Wednesday, 27 August 2008 12:52 UK
Home-grown cannabis on the rise

Cannabis is the UK's most widely used illegal drug with millions of people smoking it regularly. 1Xtra News has recorded a documentary that lifts the lid on marijuana and looks into its possible link with mental illness.

Cannabis factory

Early next year, cannabis is due to be upgraded from a class C to a class B drug.

It means maximum prison sentences for anyone caught in possession rising from two to five years.

One of the main reasons behind the reclassification seems to be the possible link between smoking stronger varieties of cannabis like skunk and mental illness.

It's a very dangerous drug, particularly in the skunk form and that's why we're taking the action that we are

Home Office minister Vernon Coaker

Alex has battled schizophrenia for the past nine years after smoking weed every day for around five to six years.

He thinks he wouldn't have developed a mental illness if he hadn't smoked the drug.

He said: "I was round a friend's house smoking a joint when I started hearing something funny.

"I started hearing a woman's voice cursing and swearing and thought, 'That's not right.'

"Cannabis has absolutely wrecked my life. I can't go out drinking or anything like that.

"I claim benefits and live on my own. It's been a long time since I had a girlfriend. I manage the best I can.

"It's definitely made my life a living hell."

Law change

Richard Colwell from SANE, a mental health charity, says they often help people who've used cannabis on a regular basis.

He said: "We do hear stories on a regular basis, not only from people that use cannabis, but also from concerned family and from concerned friends who can see somebody that's close to them, someone they love, who is going through a downward spiral.

"It can be very, very difficult to watch. So, it's not just the possible impact on the individual but also the broader impact as well that it might have on people they are close to."

Unidentified woman smoking cannabis joint
In a small minority of people, dope can trigger serious mental illness
The 14-year maximum penalty for dealers will stay the same.

Eamon's a former dealer who says he made 50,000 a year selling weed.

He gave up after he was caught, did six months in prison and became an IT consultant.

He doesn't think the classification changes will make any difference.

He said: "Reclassification from a dealer's point of view is just meaningless.

"It doesn't matter whether it's class B or class C because the sentencing guidelines from the court are still the same.

"If you get caught you could get a maximum of 14 years on both, so it doesn't really matter for a dealer because it's the same penalties either way."

Marijuana at home

More than 60% of the cannabis smoked in the UK is also grown here. 10 years ago that figure was 11%.

Every day police shut down an estimated three cannabis farms in the UK.

Gangs, many from Vietnam, are using hydroponic technology to produce massive amounts of stronger varieties of cannabis in residential homes and warehouses around the UK.

Cannabis seizure
Cannabis seizure in Merseyside in January 2008 worth 1m
But not everyone who grows marijuana is a member of a gang.

Harry, which isn't his real name, grows cannabis for his own use in a greenhouse in his back garden.

He said: "I know that what I'm doing is illegal but how can something so wrong feel so right?"

"I've just taken a seed. I've put it into some soil, added a little bit of water. I cut it down. I smoke it.

"I don't go out on the street. I don't offer it to random people but I could have the police coming round here at six o'clock in the morning.

"I'm not a criminal. I'm not a bad guy but I face prosecution for growing."

The government is also thinking about clamping down on the sale of cannabis seeds and equipment like bongs and pipes.

Vernon Coaker is from the Home Office and is responsible for drugs policy.

He said: "Cannabis is a very serious drug. It's one of the most prevalent drugs, particularly amongst young people.

"It's a very dangerous drug, particularly in the skunk form and that's why we're taking the action that we are.

"If you're getting evidence, as we are, that the potency of the cannabis has increased and the availability of those stronger strains has increased, I think you'd be silly not to reflect on that and to change the classification."

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