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Blair Issues Warning About Cannabis Use

Andrew Woodcock, The Scotsman, 4th May 2005

Prime Minister Tony Blair spoke today of his growing concern about the dangers of cannabis, raising speculation that he would like to see the drug’s controversial reclassification reversed.

Speaking to a group of concerned parents during a General Election event in Lancashire, Mr Blair said there was increasing medical evidence that cannabis is “not quite as harmless as people make out”.

He also warned that youngsters who smoke cannabis may move on to harder drugs.

Earlier this year, Home Secretary Charles Clarke, commissioned the Advisory Committee on the Misuse of Drugs to investigate whether new medical evidence linking cannabis use to long-term mental problems had implications for the decision to downgrade it from class B to the less serious class C. Their report is due after the May 5 election.

The change - introduced by Mr Clarke’s predecessor David Blunkett - came into effect at the start of last year and put cannabis on the same level as some prescription anti-depressants and steroids. Possession of the drug is no longer normally an arrestable offence.

Mr Blair today met voters concerned about drugs at a community centre at Penwortham, near Preston.

When challenged on the decision to reclassify cannabis, he told them: “We have said we will look at it again. There’s actually been misunderstanding about this - what we really say to the police is, ‘Go after the hard stuff’.

“I have thought about this a lot. I know people say cannabis is different from hard drugs - and of course it is - but I think there is a risk that you start with that and then get into other things.

“And also I think there is increasing evidence emerging that it isn’t quite as harmless as people make out.

“So I take a very strong line on it, and a particularly strong line if there is any question of people dealing anywhere near kids and schools.”

Mr Blair denounced Liberal Democrat drugs policy, which he said would lead to the decriminalisation of cannabis and mean nobody caught in possession of heroin or crack cocaine would be sent to jail.

“I think that’s just crackers as a policy,” he said.

When asked whether he would give new guidance to police on how to deal with cannabis, Mr Blair said: “I think the police probably know what the rules are and the boundaries, because there’s a lot of misconceptions about it.

“I think it’s important we correct the misunderstandings, because otherwise we send out mixed messages to the public, but the purpose of it originally was to say to the police, ‘Get after the hard drug dealers’.”

Mr Blair said a third term Labour Government would press ahead with measures to improve drug education at schools, confiscate the assets of drug dealers and give prisoners who test positive for drugs the option of receiving treatment.

He was joined by Chancellor Gordon Brown at the event in the South Ribble constituency, where Labour MP David Borrow is defending a slim majority of 3,802.

A shirt-sleeved Mr Blair clutched a mug of tea as he perched on a sofa to take questions from users of the community centre, not all of whom were Labour supporters.

He raised a laugh at the end of the meeting by appealing to them to “get out and vote on June 5”, before hastily correcting himself, saying: “May 5.”

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