420 Magazine Background

Education on drug use is paramount



The application of the law on cannabis is a muddle. You may believe that the
decision to downgrade cannabis from a class B to a class C drug from the
beginning of the year means it is no longer illegal to possess and use
cannabis but only illegal to trade in it. Last week, Sir John Stevens,
Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, admitted the situation was
confusing and told us possession could still lead to two years'
imprisonment. Why should anyone spend two years in prison for possession of
cannabis if they cannot be arrested for it? You risk arrest if you buy and
sell cannabis, or if you use it in aggravated circumstances - in the street,
in a school playground or outside the school gate. But policy, as we
understand it, is for simple possession of cannabis to lead only to a
caution. For the mass of users, its illegality is a technical issue, in
which case Sir John, while strictly right, should be more precise.
The Government is trying to be pragmatic about cannabis use. Millions use it
in moderation for pleasure and to stigmatise law-abiding citizens with a
criminal record is silly; cannabis use is here to stay. And yet the
Government, and most parents fear, with good reason, that further
liberalisation would lead to an explosion of use. Hence the retention of the
threat of arrest.

If this is too confusing for the public and the police, then the way forward
has to be towards full decriminalisation. To work, this must go hand in hand
with a vigorous education campaign on the dangers of drug abuse but, as we
report today, this key plank of government policy is set to collapse through
a funding shortfall.

There are important benefits to further liberalisation, including putting
the currently murky business under public scrutiny, where health risks and
product quality can be properly monitored. Some of the very strong cannabis
on the streets today bears little relation to the mild mood-altering stuff
used by yesterday's students. It is essential that relaxation of the law is
accompanied by greater education about the long-term effects of use.
Decriminalising a drug is not a declaration that it is safe, as we know when
we warn children against the dangers of tobacco and alcohol. Cannabis may be
a real danger to health. But its use should not be a crime.

Pubdate: Sunday January 18, 2004
Source: Observer, The (UK)
Contact: letters@observer.co.uk
Website: Observer | The Guardian
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