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Page last updated at 14:39 GMT, Tuesday, 14 October 2008 15:39 UK
'Three strikes' plan for cannabis

By Tulip Mazumdar
Newsbeat health reporter

On 26 January 2009 cannabis is being upgraded from a Class C to Class B drug. But there's some confusion over what that will mean in practice. Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has announced new plans to make the rules tougher and the law simpler.

Cannabis plant

What's the law on cannabis?

Cannabis is illegal. It's a Class C drug. The law states that if you're caught with small amounts of cannabis on you, you'll have it taken away and you'll get a warning. That warning goes on your record. If you're under 18 your parents are likely to be told too. If you keep getting caught you face an 80 fine. If that doesn't stop you and you're still caught repeatedly, you can be arrested and face a maximum of two years behind bars. Being locked up over possession is rare, though, if it's just for personal use.

Why is the government upgrading cannabis to a Class B drug?

Cannabis has only been a Class C drug since 2004. Back then the Home Secretary David Blunkett decided to downgrade it from Class B after taking lots of medical and legal advice. The government's now done a big U-turn and is putting it back into the Class B group of drugs along with substances like speed. Ministers say it's because stronger strains of cannabis like skunk are more popular. They also raise concerns about young people "binge smoking" and the effects that's having on their mental health.

How will the law change when cannabis is upgraded to a Class B drug?

Whereas now you can get caught a number of times and not actually be arrested for possession, the idea behind the new law is a "three strikes and you're out" system. If you get caught once you'll just get a warning. If you're caught a second time you'll get an 80 fine. If you're caught a third time you'll be arrested and could face five years behind bars. But the group that represents police officers says this won't make a big difference and it'll still be up to officers on the ground how strict they are with the rules.



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