Gone to pot

By Den Taylor
Daily Mail, 13 January  2004

So this is what happens when the police take the law on cannabis less seriously. In the London borough of Lambeth the experiment of a softly-softly approach to the drug led to an explosion In its use. From the end of this month the Lambeth approach will be effectively introduced across the country as cannabis is downgraded to a ‘Class C’ substance. There is a real danger that cannabis use across the country will soar as teenagers assume they are safe from arrest and that it is acceptable to use the drug From whatever angle this is looked at, It Is a totally wrongheaded reform.

Cannabis Explosion

FEARS over the legal downgrading or cannabis increased last night as figures showed an
explosion in its use. Police in the London borough which pioneered a softly-softly approach to the drug have reported a three fold increase In the number of those caught with It. Anti-drug campaigners said last night that the trend suggested demand for cannabis will rocket when it is formally reclassified as a Class C substance later this month. The statistics are taken from crime figures  Lambeth  widely seen as a template for the government’s drug law reform. In July 2001, Commander Brian Paddick ordered his officers not to arrest and charge those caught with a small amount of cannabis, Instead they were let off with confiscation and a warning. Critics said the year long experiment made Lambeth, and the Britain area in particular, a magnet For so-called drug tourists and increased consumption among children. Supporters claimed that it freed officers to
concentrate on tackling harder substances such as heroin and crack cocaine. Figures show that in the year leading up to the experiment there were 805 incidents involving cannabis in Lambeth.  By 2001/2002 they bad risen to 1,127. Last year, despite the decision  to scrap the experiment, the figure had risen to 2,330. From January 29, the Brixton approach. will effectively become a nationwide policy and officers
will be able to arrest users only in aggravating circumstances’ – if they are under 18 or smoking persistently in a public place or near a school’
The official downgrading means the drug will be  considered no more dangerous than prescription painkillers, steroids or tranquillisers. Doctors fear the change will lead young people to believe the drug is harmless.

Last night, senior police sources said that even though a more aggressive approach to drug use in Lambeth has been employed over the past l8 months, demand for cannabis has continued to rise. Lambeth has also continued to attract drug users from outside the borough. That factor may end when the law is changed. Those opposed to liberalisation believe that what has happened in Brixton is likely to be repeated in many parts or the country. The fear is that demand will go through the roof. Anti-drugs campaigner Mary Brett, a grammar school teacher, said: These figures prove that since the Home Secretary David Blunkett mode his announcement that the law was going to be changed, usage of the drug and demand has gone tip, In some ways it was inevitable. People. particularly children, pick up messages and the message is that it’s OK to take cannabis.’ Alter January 20, those caught in possession for personal use can expect the police to confiscate the drug and issue a routine warning. The maximum sentence for possession will fall from five years to two, although punishments for dealers will increase. However, last night there were Fears that the changes will lead to more confusion.

John DunFord, of the Secondary Heads Association, said: There is considerable confusion on the pert o as to the effect that tills will have, particularly on school discipline. Our advice is to continue to treat cannabis as before. The penalties we advise are a suspension  possession Or exclusion for anyone who is supplying it. About 2 million Britons use cannabis regularly and a third of all l5-year olds have tried the drug according to official figures. Figures  yesterday showed that the price of the drug has dropped by 20 per cent t £66 for an ounce of resin and there is increasing evidence that road accidents re being caused by drivers high on the drug. Last night Chief Superintvn’ dent Richard Quinn, Lambeth’s current commander admitted  there had been a perception that users would not be prosecuted for carrying drug and that it had been ‘legalised’. The bottom line is that the dealers are more overt he said. Mr Quinn, said that as tile new law was rolled out across the country flourishing new markets for the drug would develop unless local officers took a firm  decision to keep a lid on it.

‘Epidemic’ of mental illness warning

SINCE the decision to downgrade cannabis revealed there have been persistent claims that it is linked to serious mental illness. Last November, a court heard how Christopher Francis, a paranoid schizophrenic with a history of smoking the drug, killed his grandmother and aunt with a house brick and kitchen knife. The Judge, Mrs. Justice Heather Hallet, said: “It would  not be the first time, that the use of apparently harmless drugs such as cannabis has led to a tearful explosion of violence.”

Earlier this month a leading expert warned that cannabis is the biggest single cause of mental illness in the UK. Consultant psychiatrist Professor Robin Murray said that up to 80 per cent of new patients at many units hey, a history of smoking the drug. He added that the vast majority  of psychotic patients those who lose contact with reality have used cannabis. He has also led a study which showed that cannabis users are seven times more at risk of developing mental illness than the population in general. One of the main problems, he believes, is that the cannabis is now far stronger than what was available in the 1960s and 1970s. It contains up to ten times as mush of the ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol which includes the ‘high’. The fear is that its wide spread use among youngsters could result in an epidemic of schizophrenia. he warned: the more cannabis that is consumed the more psychiatrists we need. the drug has also been linked to cancer and lung disease.

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