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Why not decriminalise cannabis

01:00 Mon 16th Jul 2001 |

asks PDTV:
A.
Here are some of the issues that have been raised recently in the debate over whether to�decriminalise cannabis.

Pros

  • Millions of people have used cannabis - 25% of 16- to 59-year-olds according to the 1998 British Crime Survey.
  • It's unlikely to be a gateway to hard drugs according to a Lancet study: it states that cannabis does not chemically predisposes users to move on to hard drugs.
  • Strong anecdotal evidence that cannabis provides relief for the symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS).
  • A recent trial showed that an extract of cannabis sprayed under the tongue significantly reduced pain, muscle spasms and bladder problems among sufferers of MS, cancer and arthritis.

Cons

  • It's stronger now. In the 60s, cannabis contained between 0.1% and 0.4% THC (the psychoactive constituent of cannabis). Now cannabis has THC concentrations of 6% to 8% - sometimes as high as 13% or 14%.
  • A new study shows that young men who take cannabis are five times more likely to be violent than the general population, and three times more likely than those dependent on alcohol.
  • Heavy users of cannabis have a significantly more pre-cancerous cell changes than non-smokers. Studies show that if a cannabis smoker develops cancer of the lungs, larynx, mouth or oesophagus, the cancer appears earlier (10-13 years) than that caused by tobacco smoking alone.
  • Decriminalisation is an unsatisfactory compromise: legalisation means that possession and use of cannabis would no longer be an offence, but decriminalisation leaves the illegal supply chain operating as usual.

Q. Who's for

  • The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee - in March it issued a report which concluded that it was 'undesirable' for therapeutic cannabis users to be prosecuted.
  • Commander Paddick, a senior police officer in London - he read a report which showed that it costs about �10,000 to bring a suspect to court, and takes two police officers off the streets for up to five hours. The report concluded: 'Arresting individuals... solely for possession of small quantities of cannabis is an ineffective use of police resources and does not enjoy community support.' As a result, he decreed that there would be no prosecutions for possession of small amounts of the drug in Brixton.
  • Charles Kennedy, Lib-Dem leader - he confirmed his support for the Lib-Dems' policy on drugs - that a royal commission should be established to examine all aspects of the issue. He said, 'Cannabis should be legalised for medical use. It has proven benefits for sufferers of, for example, multiple sclerosis, and it is callous to deny them relief from their condition.'
  • The Royal College of Nursing - 'It seems a pity that people who could benefit greatly from medically prescribed cannabis for pain control do not have access to it,' a spokeswoman said.

Q. Who's against

  • Baroness Greenfield, professor of pharmacology and Director of the Royal Institution - she warns that cannabis may shrink or kill brain cells, especially in the hippocampus, which is linked to memory. Because of the way it works onn the brain, she adds, there is a potential 'for cannabis to have a more targeted and longer-lasting effect on brain functions'.
  • Tony Blair - he was quick to deny suggestions that he was preparing the relax the laws after David Blunkett's comments.

Q. Who's in the middle

  • Home secretary, David Blunkett - he has called for an 'adult, intelligent debate' on the state of the laws on soft drugs.
  • Peter Lilley, former Tory cabinet minister - although calling for cannabis to be legalised, said, 'I certainly don't want to encourage anyone to take cannabis.'
  • Michael Portillo, Tory MP - said a 'strong enough case' has been made for legalising cannabis, but backs off supporting it.

Q. What's next
A.
The �1.2 million Cannabis in Multiple Sclerosis trial, the biggest study of its kind ever conducted, has begun and will last for 18 months. Funded by the Medical Research Council, it will study the effects of cannabis on 660 MS patients. The results are expected to be available by the end of 2002 or the beginning of 2003.

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By Sheena Miller

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