By Peter Stoker for Drug Watch International
14th November, 2003
Fall in UK this year came late and glorious; the fall of cannabis law came premature and dismal. Plans laid by Home Secretary David Blunkett on his accession in fall 2001 came to fruition as voting in the Commons (316 160) and the Lords (63 37) .gave him the go ahead to downgrade cannabis from Class B to Class C next 29th January. The change means that cannabis remains illegal, a position Government have strongly affirmed, but simple possession of small quantities is less likely to provoke arrest, unless the possessor provokes it in some way. Dealer penalties have been adjusted back up to their former Class B levels.
There was no such thing as a free vote in the Commons. Debate time was severely limited, three line whips shepherded government MPs into the correct division ,lobby, and for all the serious concerns expressed on both sides of the house, Mr Blunkett got what he wanted. Quite why he wanted it is open to conjecture; even his own party member, Kate Hoey, asked “Why are we doing this now?” and fingered the now notorious “Lambeth Experiment” in which an autonomous try at decriminalising cannabis took place, as “doomed to success from the beginning, because the Home Office had decided it would be successful whatever the outcome”.
However much he may have wanted it, it seems that the Home Secretary didn’t want the flak that went with it. As Blunkett went AWOL, his opposite number Oliver Letwin remarked that the Home Secretary was “seeking spurious, short term popularity … that is not a responsible way to conduct the government of this .country … we should consider the fate of our young people”. Blunkett’s substitute, Carolinr Flint, was less than impressive as far as Letwin was concerned; he described her as being “… all over the place” and dismissed as derisory her claim that reclassification would “assist in educating young people about the dangers of drugs” and “preventing drug misuse”.
The Government argued, somewhat dyslexically, that the change for cannabis from Class B was necessary in order to differentiate it from drugs in Class A. Lord Williamson found this logic less than convincing, saying that he had learnt the difference on his first day in school. Some Westminster watchers have suggested Blunkett at least initially thought a concession on cannabis would silence the drug lobby. Some hopes. Taking a more disturbing line, in the Lords debate, Baroness Howells wondered if it was all a plot to legalise it and boost tax revenue. Lord Mancroft saw no harm in this, having argued the principle these many years.
Government argued its case by dismissing all the advances in knowledge made by DWI and others in recent years. There would he no increase in use from this relaxation in the law; there is no Gateway effect with cannabis; THC levels have not increased significantly; criminalisation and prison should not follow a mere joint.