THE DAY may come when Mr Blunkett wishes he had left well alone.” This was our warning to the Home Secretary 15 months ago over his proposed cannabis legislation — and that day has now come. Later this month, as part of the Government’s Criminal Justice Bill, cannabis will be downgraded from a Class B to a Class C drug, nominally on a level with tranquillisers. But last minute changes to toughen up the legislation have created utter confusion. The way Mr Blunkett initially presented the reclassification was that adults found in possession of small amounts of cannabis were going to be warned, and the drugs seized, but they would not normally be arrested. Now it turns out that police have been told to arrest anyone smoking cannabis in public and all teenagers in possession of the drug, whatever the circumstances. This is the first the public has heard of these changes. Head teachers are now understandably concerned that teenagers will smoke cannabis in the belief that they cannot be arrested for doing so, and then find themselves with a criminal record. Lady Runciman chaired the inquiry which concluded that the law on cannabis caused more harm than it prevented, and prompted David Blunkett to reclassify the drug. She has expressed her dismay at this extraordinary U-turn. The key point about making it no longer an arrestable offence to possess small quantities of cannabis, as the Home Secretary himself pointed out, was that it would result in more police and court time being devoted to dealing with drug pushers and hard drugs rather than small-time users of cannabis, nearly 64,000 of whom were convicted of possession last year. That argument has now been turned on its head. Mr Blunkett has plainly been swayed by police chiefs asking him how they can be expected to take a tougher line on cannabis dealers while pursuing a no-arrest policy for possessors. They will have pointed out that the pilot project In Lambeth led to an influx of drug dealers and users (though nationwide decriminalisation would presumably not have this local effect). As it is, Mr Blunkett is left with the worst of outcomes: a Class C drug treated as a Class B offence — and a Class A muddle for teachers, pupils, drugs charities and the police.
Source: Evening Standard. 12 January 2004