Former Drugs Tsar Attacks Downgrading Of Cannabis

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The government's former drugs tsar yesterday accused ministers of
"encouraging" drugs use among young people by reclassifying cannabis.

Keith Hellawell said he believed Home Secretary David Blunkett would
come to regret his initiative to reduce cannabis from a class B to a
class C drug across the UK.

In the run-up to the change coming into effect on Thursday, Blunkett
has come under increasing criticism from medical experts who have
warned that the drug is more harmful than was previously thought.

They were yesterday joined by Hellawell, who headed the government's
fight against drugs between 1998 and 2002.

He said: "Quite frankly it is a nonsense, and the way that they have
done it is a nonsense, and it is causing so much confusion in people's
minds that it will do this generation and the future generation an
enormous disservice.

"Some of the dangers of cannabis are far in excess of some of the
synthetic drugs. The real issue is that the government has given a
message that cannabis is less dangerous than it was perceived to be,
and they have given that message at a time when every medical
institution is saying: 'We are worried about the dangers, we don't
know sufficient about it, and we believe the dangers are even greater
than we perceive them to be.'"

Hellawell said that when he sat on the principal advisory committee on
drugs, there was no significant support for reclassification.

Reclassification and its effect on police powers in the field had
produced "a muddle", Hellawell argued.

"Cannabis arrests have been steadily coming down within the confines
of the existing law," he said. "Why change it, why cause confusion and
why - I am sad to say - encourage in some respect greater drug taking,
particularly by young people, who don't know where they stand?"

Hellawell said he believed that Blunkett was "driving the agenda" on
reclassification.

"I do not know why, only he will know, and I suspect he will live to
regret it. It's a mystery."

A Home Office spokesman said: "Keith Hellawell supported the Home
Secretary' s view that reclassification was necessary when he was
briefed on the proposals at a Home Office meeting with David Blunkett
in October 2001."



Pubdate: Sun, 25 Jan 2004
Source: Scotland On Sunday (UK)
Copyright: 2004 The Scotsman Publications Ltd.
Contact: letters_sos@scotlandonsunday.com
Website: The Scotsman - Scottish News