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Magistrates to debate cannabis reversal call

24dash, October 4, 2006

Magistrates are to consider asking the Government to reverse the controversial reclassification of cannabis, it was revealed today.

A motion at the Magistrates Association's annual conference will claim that moving the drug from Class B to Class C has led to greater use of the drug and given out the wrong messages to young people.

JPs will discuss next month whether to call on ministers to overturn the downgrading of the drug, which came into force in January 2004.

The motion was put forward by members of the association's youth courts committee including vice-chairman Ted Weston of the Buckinghamshire bench.

It was proposed by Roger Davy from the West Yorkshire bench.

The motion said: "This annual general meeting considers that the impact of reclassifying cannabis from Class B to Class C has given out the wrong messages to young people and led to greater use of the drug to the detriment of young people.

"It urges the Government to return to the original classification of Class B for young people under 18."

Former Home Secretary David Blunkett moved cannabis to Class C - making possession a non-arrestable offence in most cases - to give police more time to concentrate on tackling hard drugs like heroin and crack.

In January this year, former Home Secretary Charles Clarke said he would not toughen cannabis penalties despite fresh fears about its side-effects. He also signalled a radical overhaul of Britain's system for classifying illegal drugs.

Experts are working on plans for a complete overhaul of the way drugs are categorised and prohibited, which dates back to the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act.

The Police Federation, which represents 138,000 frontline officers, has said the reclassification was a mistake, but the policy has been consistently backed by chief constables' group, the Association of Chief Police Officers.

In June this year the decision to downgrade was criticised by the head of the United Nations anti-drugs department.

Executive director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime Antonio Maria Costa, said countries got the "drug problem they deserved" if they maintained inadequate policies.

In an unusual statement, he suggested cannabis was as harmful as cocaine and heroin - a stance which differs wildly from the British attitude of treating cannabis far less seriously than Class A substances.