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Reclassification FAQs

From www.drugs.gov.uk

When will reclassification take effect?

On 29th January 2004.

What will happen to someone who is found in possession of cannabis?
Under the guidance being issued by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) to all police forces, there will be a presumption against arrest. For adults, most offences of cannabis possession are likely to result in a warning and confiscation of the drug. But the following instances may lead to arrest and possible caution or prosecution:

It will become operational when the law change takes effect, which is 29 January 2004.

By retaining the power of arrest, aren't you just maintaining the status quo? What will change?
There will be a presumption against arrest under the police guidance – at present there is no such presumption. In addition, following reclassification, the maximum penalty for the possession of cannabis will go down from 5 years’ to 2 years’ imprisonment.

Reclassification sends a more credible message to young people that all drugs are harmful, but some are more harmful than others.

How will young people under 18 be dealt with?
The Government is sending out a clear message to young people under 18 that cannabis misuse remains illegal.

Police enforcement will be consistent with the more structured framework for early juvenile offending established under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, where a young offender 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.

Why are young people being dealt with more strictly than adults?
They are not being dealt with more strictly – they are likely to receive reprimands or warnings for a first offence of cannabis possession. However, the process is more formal for persons under 18, and it is important that their cases should be dealt with at the police station, so that any underlying problems with the young person can be identified.

Young people under the age of 18 who receive a final warning, or are reported for court proceedings for the possession of cannabis, will be referred to the local Youth Offending Team (YOT), and are likely to have their substance misuse assessed by the YOT drugs worker, who may arrange treatment or other support where this is needed.

Does reclassification mean people will be able to smoke openly?

No. Those who smoke openly in public face possible arrest and prosecution.

How will you ensure that the police enforce the law in a consistent way and don’t overuse the power of arrest?
The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) is committed to the guidance, and to ensuring that it is operated consistently and within its spirit.

ACPO will keep its operation under constant review, particularly in its early stages. In addition, HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary will closely monitor the guidance’s use, and will intervene with any police force where necessary.

What action are you taking against those people who intend to set up cannabis cafés?
Anyone trying to establish a cannabis café risks imprisonment or a heavy fine (or both). Supply of cannabis is and will remain a criminal offence, and those who sell it to others risk severe penalties. It is also an offence for managers of premises to allow smoking or supply of cannabis on their premises.

Reclassification of cannabis makes no difference to this position. We would expect the police to respond swiftly and effectively to any such attempts to defy the law. Smoking cannabis in a cannabis café (or elsewhere) could result in arrest and prosecution.

Why are we not adopting the Dutch model?
In Holland, the small-scale possession and supply of cannabis remain illegal but there is a formal policy of tolerance of small-scale selling and possession of cannabis in coffee shops. But coffee shops still have to go to the criminal markets for their supplies.

Dutch experience also shows us how difficult it is to restrict the sale of cannabis, including to children, through a licensed source.

Why is the Government not moving towards a controlled regime for cannabis?
The report does not make a direct comparison between cannabis and alcohol and tobacco. The introduction of a controlled regime for cannabis similar to the licensed regimes attached to the sale of alcohol and tobacco would lead, among other things, to a significant increase in consumption – a simple comparison with the number of alcohol and tobacco users is illustrative.

Increased use would significantly add to public health costs and could encourage wider consumption of drugs and further drug addiction. A regulated supply would also increase the availability of drugs to children.

What are the harmful effects of cannabis?
The acute effects include damage to people's ability to learn and carry out many tasks, including operating machinery and driving vehicles. Acute cannabis intoxication can also lead to panic attacks, paranoia and confused feelings.

The chronic effects include damage to mental functioning and in particular to learning difficulties, which in prolonged and heavy users may not necessarily be reversible. A cannabis dependence syndrome has been identified in heavy users and the drug can exacerbate schizophrenia in people who are already affected. Smoking cannabis over a long period of time can lead to respiratory diseases, including lung cancer.

What about reports that cannabis use leads to mental illness?

Some research suggests that heavy cannabis use over a long period might lead to schizophrenia, but other research suggests it does not. The overall evidence is inconclusive. What is clear is that cannabis use can worsen schizophrenia which already exists.

What about reports that cannabis smoking leads to lung cancer?
Smoking cannabis presents a real health risk, potentially similar to that of tobacco. Smoked cannabis has a higher concentration of certain carcinogens than smoked tobacco, and it tends to be inhaled more deeply.

However, in general cannabis smokers smoke fewer cigarettes per day than tobacco smokers and most give up in their 30s. A Department of Health working group is examining the health consequences of cannabis smoking.

Is cannabis a "gateway" drug leading to use of more harmful drugs? Won't this lead to more people taking hard drugs?
The evidence for cannabis as a "gateway" drug, which leads on to other drug use, is inconclusive. Research confirms that establishing a causal link is extremely difficult. It is clear that most users of the more dangerous drugs used cannabis earlier in their careers, but most cannabis users do not go on to use other drugs regularly.

Of course, the same can be said of alcohol. Very large numbers of those who use Class A drugs have used alcohol to excess. But many people who use alcohol do not progress to any form of other drug.

What are you doing to educate young people about the dangers of cannabis?
To coincide with reclassification, the Government is issuing a fact sheet which will be widely available to young people, which explains that cannabis remains illegal and describes what will happen to someone who is found in possession of cannabis. The 3 year national campaign – FRANK - to alert young people to the harm of all drugs includes information about cannabis.

Will the Government permit the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes?

The Home Secretary has made it clear that he is willing to amend the misuse of drugs legislation as necessary, to allow the prescribing of a cannabis-based medicine as a form of pain relief. The Home Office granted a licence to GW Pharmaceuticals who have conducted trials and have developed a cannabis-based medicine designed to relieve chronic nerve pain.

The company are currently seeking marketing approval for the product from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency - a process all new medicines have to go through which is designed to protect public health. The Multiple Sclerosis Society supports this approach.