How dangerous is cannabis?
Cannabis was reclassified from Class C to Class B in January 2009. TheSite.org put your questions to Home Office Minister Alan Campbell MP about the changes.
Why did the government decide to reclassify cannabis as Class B, despite only making it Class C a few years ago?
The Government keeps the harm drugs do under review, and since last we looked at cannabis the situation has changed. We're concerned about the strength of cannabis which is now being used, particularly skunk. We're very concerned about the long-term mental health effects that cannabis can cause. We're also concerned about the impact of organised crime, into cannabis cultivation and cannabis farms. And for those reasons we decided to look into it again and decided to reclassify.
You can get a warning for your first offence and an £80 fine for your second offence. Does this imply that cannabis is less dangerous than other Class B drugs?
No, by reclassifying we're sending out a very strong message that cannabis is a dangerous drug. However we looked at the best way to police the new classification and working with the police we came up with an enforcement system based on escalation for adults, which would start with a warning, an on-the-spot fine of £80 and then for the third offence the offender would be taken to court. However, that's at the discretion of the police officer. He or she could decide court was the first option. I think we're sending out a strong message with that.
Cannabis is slightly different to other drugs, I think police officers, by-and-large, have more knowledge of cannabis than other drugs. It's easier to identify, for example, and therefore it lends itself to quick action on the street and an on-the-spot fine.
The government has gone against its own panel of experts regarding the classification of both cannabis and ecstasy. Are classifications based on political or scientific decisions?
They are not based on political decisions. The council advises the government about the harm that drugs do, and we take that advice very seriously. However, on cannabis, we came to a different conclusion. We take a slightly wider view about public safety and it's our job, our first job, to keep the public safe. We believe the evidence is there that cannabis is more dangerous than it was a few years ago, and it's for that reason we rejected the advice of the council on this, although we accepted their advice on other matters to do with cannabis, and decided we would go ahead with reclassification.
Does the three tier classification system give a realistic guide to the most dangerous drugs?
I think people understand it; it's a very clear system. And they recognise the difference between A, B and C reflects the different harms drugs can do. I think it's the best system that we have. It's easily understandable and people understand not only that it reflects harm but also the penalties that can be imposed according to the classification.
Do you think the reasons cited for making cannabis illegal could as equally be applied to alcohol?
Well we take alcohol and drugs very seriously, but I think it's important to treat them as two separate issues. Partly because I think the public see alcohol and drugs differently. As far as I'm concerned drugs do harm, I think the public have a perception of alcohol that it is in reasonable quantities socially acceptable to drink alcohol. Of course we send out a strong message, particularly to young people, that they shouldn't binge drink and that alcohol can cause health problems. But I think we're talking about two different things.