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Mps Vote To Downgrade Cannabis

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MPs have voted to downgrade cannabis from a Class B to a Class C drug,
putting it in the same group as anti-depressants and steroids.

The changes, which will come into effect in the new year, mean
penalties for possession of the drug will be lessened.

But under guidelines drawn up by the Association of Chief Police
Officers last month, police will still have the power to arrest users
in special circumstances, such as when the drug is smoked outside schools.

The Conservatives have described the move as "liberalisation" and say
cannabis will become "semi-legal", a claim denied by the government.

'Confusing Message'

And the Police Federation, which represents 130,000 police officers,
is also against downgrading the drug to Class C.

Chairman John Barry said the plans sent out "a confusing and
conflicting message", especially to young people.

Mr Blunkett believes the law must be changed to let police spend more
time dealing with more harmful Class A drugs like crack cocaine and
heroin which account for more crime.

At the moment, about 80,000 people are arrested and fined for
possession every year.

After a change in rules, anyone caught in possession of cannabis will
only receive a warning and will have their drugs confiscated.

'Reefer Madness'

But some drugs law campaigners are concerned about a failure in the
guidelines to spell out the amount of cannabis deemed as being "for
personal use".

Danny Kushlick, director of Transform, a national charity campaigning
for reform, said that while the health impacts of cannabis were hotly
disputed, it was obvious that illegal production was less safe than if
it were regulated.

"The only way to ensure that cannabis users are aware of the strength,
purity and potential dangers of cannabis is to legalise, regulate and
control its production and supply," he added.

But Lesley King-Lewis, chief executive of Action on Addiction, said
the move would increase cannabis use.

She said: "As many as one in 10 cannabis users become addicted.
Cannabis use is associated with cancers of the mouth, tongue, throat,
oesophagus and lung and reductions in fertility as well as with mental
illnesses such as schizophrenia and depression."

Source: BBC News (UK Web)
Copyright: 2003 BBC
Website: Home - BBC News