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Drug Information - Cannabis reclassification

Cannasbis reclassificationThe reclassification of cannabis from a Class B to Class C drug came into force on 29 January 2004. TheSite explains.

Cannabis reclassification and the law:

In June 2002 the Home Secretary announced the proposed change in classification for cannabis. When the change occurs it will remain illegal to sell, possess, or allow the use of cannabis in your own home, however the police can deal with it at their discretion with a caution. Those possessing/ using cannabis but not dealing can face up to two years in jail.

The legislation explained:

If the police catch you with cannabis for personal use once or twice you will be given a formal warning, have to hand over the drug to the cops, and then be free to go. Repeated arrests will result in a charge, i.e. going to court, getting a fine and a criminal record. If you refuse to hand over cannabis to the police you will also be arrested. Under the ACPO (Association of Chief Police Officers) guidelines, if you are under 18 and in possession of cannabis you could face arrest every time, although you should only be put in front of a court on the third offence. If you blatantly smoke cannabis in front of police officers or near kids you could also face arrest.

Possible problems with the proposed legislation

Many experts have suggested the new law is unclear. Specific concerns include:

It will be difficult to police properly - how can they tell what is above or below three grammes without scales? Besides which, scales are impractical for carrying around. How can police tell how many times a person has been cautioned before? Pro-cannabis groups believe it will be near impossible for police to keep track, especially in big cities.  


The Home Secretary has recommended that cannabis should be reclassified to a Class B drug

The decision reflects the fact that skunk, a much stronger version of the drug, now dominates the UK's cannabis market.

Skunk has swept other, less potent, forms of cannabis off the market, and now accounts for 81% of cannabis available on our streets, compared to just 30% in 2002.

Targeting the young
It's a drug that targets young people. The average age at which users first try skunk is 13, and young people may 'binge' on skunk in the same way they drink alcohol, trying to achieve the maximum effect.

If they do, the independent Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs found that this can seriously impact their mental health.

If approved by Parliament, reclassification would take effect from early 2009.

Key facts
The change would mean:

more robust enforcement against cannabis supply and possession - those repeatedly caught with the drug will not just receive cannabis warnings
a new strategic and targeted approach to tackling cannabis farms and the organised criminals who run them
the introduction of additional aggravating sentencing factors for those caught supplying cannabis near further and higher educational establishments, mental health institutions and prisons
possible changes to legislation and powers used to curtail the sale and promotion of cannabis paraphernalia

Stronger enforcement of the law

The Home Secretary has asked the Association of Chief Police Officers to propose stronger enforcement measures for policing cannabis.

These rules should make it clear that penalties for adults must be more strict, and that officers should not be prevented from arresting people for breaking the cannabis laws, even if it is their first offence.

Current penalties related to cannabis
Until the reclassification is approved, cannabis remains a Class C drug. Penalties are listed below.

Penalties for supply, dealing, production and trafficking
The maximum penalty is 14 years imprisonment. This has increased from five years for all class C substances including GHB and Valium. (The maximum penalty of 14 years' imprisonment is the same for Class B drugs.)

Penalties for possession
The maximum penalty was reduced from 5 years to 2 years imprisonment in 2004, but it will return to 5 years if Parliament approves the reclassification to Class B.

Young people in possession of cannabis
A young offender in possession of cannabis will be arrested and taken to a police station where they can receive a reprimand, final warning or charge depending on the seriousness of the offence.

Following one reprimand, any further offence will lead to a final warning or charge. Any further offence following a warning will normally result in a charge being brought. After a final warning, the young offender must be referred to the Youth Offending Team to arrange a rehabilitation programme to prevent reoffending.

This police enforcement is consistent with the structured framework for early juvenile offending established under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998.

Adults in possession of cannabis
It is unlikely that adults caught in possession of cannabis will be arrested. Most offences of possession result in a warning and confiscation of the drug. But some instances may lead to arrest and possible caution or prosecution, including:

  • repeat offending
  • smoking in a public place
  • instances where public order is threatened
  • possession of cannabis in the vicinity of premises used by children
  • Related news stories elsewhere on the web:

    Doctors' fears at cannabis change - "The BMA is extremely concerned that the public might think that reclassification equals 'safe'. It does not."   

    The Met out of step on new cannabis law - "London police chief admits to 'massive amount of muddle' over reclassification, as his force diverges from rest of UK"

    Cannabis laws in shambles - "Headteachers, drugs charities and lawyers warn there is widespread misunderstanding among the public - and especially teenagers - over what the changes mean."

    Cannabis poisoning kills Welsh addict - "A Welshman is thought to have become the first in Britain to die directly from cannabis poisoning."

    How dangerous is dope? - "As the reclassification of cannabis draws near, Joe Muggs investigates its links with mental illness."

    Advice and support:

    The charity Release gives advice on drugs and legal problems - their helpline number is 020 7749 4034.

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