Daily Mail , UK, 20th July 2006
Cannabis crime has exploded since Labour downgraded
the seriousness of being caught with the drug.
Government figures reveal an alarming 36 per cent
increase in possession of cannabis last year - the
equivalent of almost 32,000 more offences.
More than half of those caught by police - a
staggering 63,635 drug users - escaped with a simple
Before the Government downgraded the drug to Class C
in January 2004, they would have faced arrest and a
possible jail term.
Now they are smoking cannabis with apparent impunity
after Ministers ruled there should be a
'presumption' in favour of nothing more than a
Such a warning does not even count as a criminal
record. The number 'let-off' last year was 23,000
more than the previous 12 months - an increase of
almost 50 per cent.
Critics said it was clear that dire predictions of
an explosion in the drug's use following the
adoption of a 'softly, softly' approach had proved
They added that those caught by police are likely to
represent only a tiny fraction of those who tried
the drug since re-grading. Shadow Home Secretary
David Davis said: 'It is shocking enough that drug
offences have increased so much since the Government
'It is a double betrayal of a whole generation of
young people that so many of these offences were
merely punished with a warning.'
The figures are a huge blow for Ministers, who had
dismissed the warnings as scaremongering. Cannabis
accounted for the vast bulk of the total 178,502
drugs offences recorded last year, an increase of 23
Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of the mental
health charity SANE, said: 'It is disappointing, but
not surprising, that following the lowering of the
classification of cannabis there should be such a
large increase in the number of offences for
'This could be extremely damaging to those people,
who by taking cannabis risk life-long mental
Mary Brett, UK spokesman for Europe Against Drugs,
said: 'I'm afraid this is a case of we told you so,
and should come as no surprise. 'The message was
given out that having cannabis was not a serious
offence, so more people have started to use it.
'What these figures reflect is who knows how many
thousands of people using cannabis who may not
otherwise have done so? That may well then act as a
gateway to other drugs, such as heroin and cocaine.'
Under Labour's controversial reforms, rammed through
by then Home Secretary David Blunkett, cannabis was
re-classified from B to C.
a Class B drug, anybody police caught for possession
faced automatic arrest. Offenders were then
officially cautioned, or taken to court to face a
possible jail term, community punishment or fine.
Even a caution counted as a criminal record, which
would be disclosed by any Criminal Record Bureau
Since it was shifted to Class C, officers have the
option of simply issuing a 'formal warning', handed
out on the street. It is the equivalent of a
The Government has said that, unless there are
aggravation factors such as openly smoking the drug
in the street, the 'presumption' should be for a
formal warning. Last year, 63,635 people caught with
cannabis were dealt with in this way, 53 per cent of
all those caught. The remainder, most of whom are
likely to have been second-time offenders or worse,
were either fined, cautioned or taken to court.
compares to 50 per cent in 2004/5, when 43,000 of
the 85,500 people caught in possession of cannabis
were given a formal warning.
suggests that as the re-classification beds down,
police are increasingly opting to dish out a formal
warning. The figures, published today, follow
warnings from the United Nations that the decision
by Britain to downgrade cannabis has led to
confusion among youngsters and helped spread a
Its drug control chief said cannabis was as
dangerous as heroin or cocaine and warned countries
that performed U-turns on drug laws that they were
putting impressionable young people at risk.
Antonio Maria Costa declared: 'Policy reversals
leave young people confused as to just how dangerous
Blunkett first mooted the reclassification of
cannabis from Class B to Class C in 2001, saying the
change would allow police to concentrate on dealers
and more serious drug offences.
Less than 15 months after it took place, in January
2004, his successor Charles Clarke called on
Government advisers for a rethink because of growing
evidence of links between cannabis and mental
also warned of the increasing availability of very
powerful strains of the drug, called skunk. But this
year he accepted advice not to change the law back
because to do so would cause even more confusion.
Since then the new Home Secretary, Mr Reid , has
twisted the law again by reducing the proposed
amounts of cannabis needed to be considered a
Initially, ministers had been considering allowing
people caught carrying as many as 2,500 'spliffs' to
escape with an offence of possession. Formal
warnings have proved popular with police, as it
counts as an 'offender brought to justice'.
Incredibly, dishing out a formal warning in the
street carries as much weight as trapping a burglar.
Home Office spokesman said the 2004/5 British Crime
Survey had found the level of drug use among both
youngsters and adults was stable. Compared to 1998,
the number of 16 to 24-year-old saying they had used
cannabis in the previous year had fallen by 16 per
cent, she said.