THE government denied today that plans to relax cannabis laws was
legalising or decriminalising the drug.

Home Secretary, David Blunkett, who took MPs by surprise when he announced
the moves, said it would allow police to caution cannabis users in the
street, rather than arrest them.

''But it's very important people don't misunderstand. There is no intention
by me or other ministers that we legalise or decriminalise,'' said Mr Blunkett.

''It's about getting the priorities right, the messages right, talking to
young people in the language they understand, not being thought to be out
of touch with reality and getting the police to do their job effectively.''

Mr Blunkett strongly denied claims that the timing of his announcement, as
the IRA announced they were dismantling their weapons, was meant to
''bury'' the controversial move.

Laws relaxed

Mr Blunkett told a Commons committee that Britain's stringent cannabis laws
are to be relaxed next spring.

Possession of cannabis should no longer be an arrestable offence and
reclassified as a Class C drug, putting it in the same category as
anti-depressants or steroids.

This is a major U-turn by Labour, which came to power in 1997 pledging zero
tolerance on drugs.

Today Mr Blunkett said it would still be illegal to smoke cannabis when the
relaxation was introduced next spring.

''But it will avoid the absurdity of 68 per cent of police time going on
cannabis, actually to no effect because very often the charges are dropped
and people are given a caution.

Drug priorities

''The right priorities are crack cocaine and heroin, which are increasing
in use. Those are the drugs which are destroying 250,000 people's lives
every year,'' added the Home Secretary.

He said they also intended to link the relaxation with the medical use of
cannabis derivative.

The Stockport head of the Medical Marijuana Co-operative, which campaigns
for cannabis to be prescribed for ill people, said Mr Blunkett's
announcement was decriminalisation through the back door.

Colin Davis said: ''It is a good thing that he has downgraded the drug and
hopefully that will mean the police will not want to waste their time on
those with cannabis.''

But former Tory cabinet minister Peter Lilley said the proposals did not go
far enough. He wants cannabis to be sold in licensed shops.

''People will still have to get their softer drugs from people who deal
hard drugs. If there was a limited number of outlets that can supply it
legally, it would break that link,'' said Mr Lilley.

Home Office figures show nearly 82,000 people were arrested for
cannabis-related offences in 1999, more than double the figure for 1990.


Newshawk: Weedlinks http://www.geocities.com/cannabismyths/LinksIndex.html
Pubdate: Wed, 24 Oct 2001
Source: Manchester Evening News (UK)
Copyright: 2001 Manchester Evening News
Contact: postbag@mcr-evening-news.co.uk
Website: http://www.manchesteronline.co.uk
Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/1313