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Senior police officers fear U-turn on classification of cannabis September 21, 2005 - guardian.co.uk
Senior police officers fear that the government is to use Dutch concerns over high-strength "skunk" to reverse the decision to relax the laws on possession of all types of cannabis.
The government's expert committee on drug abuse will meet at the end of the week to consider a request from the home secretary, Charles Clarke, that it look again at last year's decision to downgrade cannabis from class B to class C in the light of new studies linking long-term use with mental health problems.
Mr Clarke has also asked the Advisory Council on Misuse of Drugs to look at whether higher-strength, or "skunk", cannabis should separately be regarded as a class B drug. Possession of a class B drug means automatic arrest and charge, while class C drugs can be dealt with by a warning on the street and confiscation.
It is expected that the council will confirm its longstanding advice to reclassify cannabis, making clear that it is a less harmful drug than heroin and cocaine.
The police fear a decision that more potent forms of "skunk" should carry heavier penalties will cause more confusion, as it will mean officers being expected to recognise the differences during a street search. "You cannot have a two tier approach," said one senior officer, who asked not to be named.
The source said there was a feeling that the home secretary was minded to reclassify cannabis "if he can". When the ACMD was asked to look again at cannabis, Tony Blair said the drug was not as harmless as some people had made out. He told MPs that if the experts recommended regrading cannabis to class B, he would act on it, and if they did not he would have to look at the situation again.
Tiggey May, a criminologist from King's College London, who was addressing a Royal College of Physicians conference yesterday, said the new policy needed time to settle down.
There was confusion among young people about cannabis as a class C drug and about police guidelines which meant children found in possession were treated differently from adults. "To start reclassifying cannabis in terms of strength would be extremely difficult. I would say it would be ridiculous to try."
Harry Shapiro of DrugScope, the drugs information charity, said "skunk" had been around a long time.
"We still do not believe there is new evidence since 2004 of dramatic change in the availability or use of more potent forms of cannabis that would warrant a change back from C to B."
He acknowledged there had been an unknown increase in the availability of "homegrown" cannabis, but said it was not necessarily stronger than imported resin. "Most people do not smoke cannabis to get so stoned that they do not know what day of the week it is. We should legislate for the typical cannabis user."