Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Reclassification Not The Answer in UK

Colin Blakemore writes in Comment is Free...

'Hysteria Over Cannabis is Getting in the Way of the Truth'

...The classification was changed in 2004. Ever since, the government has seemed uncomfortable. Successive Home Secretaries - Charles Clarke in 2005 and Jacqui Smith last year - have gone through the ritual of asking the ACMD if they are really sure.

What, then, are the concerns? First, cannabis remains the most commonly used illegal drug. But its use has been falling steadily since 2000, with no hint that this decline was affected by reclassification. Home Office statistics show that cannabis use by 16- to 24-year-olds has fallen by about 20 per cent since 2004. So, if we naively argue from correlations (the basis of so much of the evidence about harm), returning cannabis to B would be expected to increase its use.

Second, there is concern about the message that reclassification has sent. But there is no evidence that classification influences the attitude of young people to drugs. Amphetamines, cocaine and ecstasy are all runners-up to cannabis in the league table of popularity in this country - and they are all class A. Usage of cocaine has grown over the past eight years, as that of cannabis has declined. Third, there is, quite rightly, a particular worry about young people. Yet the the government's own figures show that only one 11-year-old in 150 has tried cannabis in the last year, while 4 per cent have sniffed glue and fully 21 per cent have drunk alcohol.

Indeed, glue-sniffing and drinking (neither of which is regulated under the Misuse of Drugs Act) are the dominant drug problems among school children. About 5 per cent of 11- and 12-year-olds admit to having been drunk at least once in the past month. And among all boys under the age of 16 who said that they had drunk alcohol in the past month, 11 per cent reported being involved in a fight and 2 per cent had ended up in hospital!

Finally, there is the issue of a possible link between cannabis use, especially the stronger varieties now on the street, and mental health problems. Parents are now more worried that their children will become schizophrenic than they were five years ago, that they would get a criminal record.

We should take very seriously the growing evidence of a link between cannabis smoking and psychosis. But this is still in the realm of correlation rather than causation. Cigarette-smoking and drinking are also very high among young people heading for schizophrenia, but no one has suggested that they cause psychosis. And what of the alarming stories of horrifyingly powerful 'skunk'? Some newspapers have told us that the level of THC, the active ingredient, in street cannabis today is 20 or 30 times higher than 10 years ago. That would be rather surprising, given that THC content was 7 per cent on average in 1995...

Read more here

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