Labour’s Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has announced that cannabis will be reclassified as a Class B drug, sending a strong message that the drug is harmful and should not be taken.
Cannabis use has fallen significantly across all age ranges and this is a testament to the success of the previous ten years of Labour’s Drug Strategy. However, the reduction in cannabis use must not be allowed to reverse.
Reclassification reflects the fact that skunk, a much stronger type of the drug, now dominates the cannabis market. It accounts for 81 per cent of cannabis available on our streets compared to just 30 per cent in 2002. The average age of first use is 13 years old and young people may binge on skunk in the same way as alcohol, trying to achieve the maximum effect.
If they do, the independent Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs found that the consequences of this "may be serious to their mental health".
Taking effect from early 2009, the classification change will mean: Tougher penalties for repeat offenders; a national crackdown on cannabis farms; action against those who sell cannabis paraphernalia, including cannabis seeds; a new public information campaign highlighting the dangers cannabis causes to health; and new sentencing guidelines to ensure that cannabis supply near colleges and universities, mental health institutions, schools and prisons will be considered an aggravating factor.
Labour’s Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said:
"Cannabis is and always has been illegal. It now dominates the illegal drugs market in the UK and is stronger than ever before.
"I make no apology for erring on the side of caution and upgrading its classification. There is a compelling case to act now rather than risk the health of future generations.
"The enforcement response must reflect the danger that the drug poses to individuals, and in turn to communities. Those who are repeatedly caught with cannabis must face tough punishment and that is why I have asked the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) to propose more robust enforcement measures to reflect re-classification.
"It is also important that the organised criminals behind the growing threat of cannabis farms feel the full force of the law, and that we use every opportunity and means to disrupt their activities so that the UK becomes a high risk place for them to operate.
Alan Johnson Labour’s Health Secretary said:
"The message has always been that cannabis is a harmful and illegal drug and should not be used. We are determined to ensure that young people in particular are well aware of all the risks. Our multi-media 'FRANK' campaign will ensure that this is the case."
Labour’s Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families Ed Balls said:
"Cannabis use by young people has been falling over recent years but remains a persistent problem. The reclassification sends the right message to young people about the risks from cannabis use - this is especially important given its increased strength and the heightened risk to young people.
"We also know parents are concerned about the recent trend towards the use of stronger strains of cannabis by young people and the potential for significant mental health problems that would severely impact on a young person's future."