Even liberal laws can lead to hardline pitfalls. To his credit, the home
secretary agreed to the recommendations of the Police Foundation's inquiry
into the drug laws to downgrade cannabis from category B to C in line with
the risks that the drug poses. It was based on expert evidence that the
30-year-old current law, which is meant to categorise drugs by harmfulness,
no longer reflected scientific, medical or sociological findings. There was
widespread relief, not just in drug treatment circles, but the police too.
About 3 million people use the drug annually, including one-quarter of all
young adults (aged 16 to 29). A war on cannabis is a war on young people.
But to keep rightwingers happy, David Blunkett balanced his package with a
draconian increase in sentences for trafficking in class C drugs - up to 14
years in prison.

New research suggests an increasing proportion of cannabis in the UK is
cultivated by users for personal consumption or use by friends. This trend
has also be seen on the continent, in states like the Netherlands and
Switzerland, which pioneered the sensible policy of separating soft from
hard drugs. In the UK, this separation is still not so clear cut.
Prosecutors have two options in dealing with cultivators: charging them with
production (which is a trafficking offence), or applying the lesser charge
of cultivation, which is on a par with possession. Both charges are used for
similar offences.

There are sound pragmatic reasons for ensuring users who cultivate their own
cannabis are not treated as dealers. Their activities reduce the role of
criminal gangs and destabilise the criminalised cannabis market. Private
cultivators need promoting, not curbing. It is not too late to protect them.
The current criminal justice bill should be amended so that grow-your-own,
like possession, is treated as a minor offence. It could even win the home
secretary some support. Polls suggest 60% of people believe cannabis should
no longer be an offence.


Tuesday March 18, 2003
The Guardian