UN condemns UK cannabis laws

Jason Burke, chief reporter

The government’s relaxation of the law on cannabis use was attacked by the United Nations last night.

Koli Kouame, secretary of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), the UN agency dedicated to monitoring legal regimes of member states, said the downgrading of cannabis from Class B to C could send the wrong signal and damage the global fight against drug abuse.

‘Whenever a government gives a sign which can be interpreted as indicating that a lower danger is associated with the use of a drug, that can cause problems,’ said Kouame. ‘It is too early to judge the impact [of the downgrading], but often the signal sent is as important as the act itself.’

His comments came days after Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, hinted that the reclassification of cannabis, under which users are only given a warning unless there are ‘aggravating factors’, might have to be reconsidered.

Straw broke ranks last week by dropping a heavy hint that there should be a review of the downgrading of the drug. ‘It was done for good reasons, but we may need to review it in the light of experience,’ he said.

His words fuelled speculation that the government is still divided over the much-criticised decision. However, the Home Office denied there were any moves to reverse the change, which went through in January last year. But concern has grown after findings suggested smoking it frequently can cause serious mental health problems.

Cannabis is the third most popular drug after alcohol and tobacco in the UK, where 40 per cent of 15-year-olds are believed to have used it. Possession can lead to two years in jail, with a maximum of 14 years for dealing.

Danny Kushlick, of Transform, a drugs policy campaign group, said that, though flawed, the reclassification recognised that cannabis was less harmful than street cocaine or heroin and that the INCB was living in the past: ‘We are talking about a legal framework that dates back to the 1950s. There is a culture clash with the reality of the 21st century.’

The UK also came in for criticism from INCB president Hamid Ghodse, who warned in the agency’s annual report that the UK had the largest rate of heroin seizures and the third-highest number of addicts in Europe in 2004.

Source: The Observer Sunday March 13, 2005
Filed under: Legal Sector :

Back to top of page

Powered by WordPress