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UK: Mental health charity backs cannabis regrade

Redhill and Reigate Life

Tuesday 24 Jul 2007

A MENTAL health charity is backing the reclassification of cannabis.

Chris Pascoe, South East manager for Rethink, said there was now an
accepted link between use of the drug by high-risk groups and severe
mental illness.

She was speaking after Prime Minister Gordon Brown told MPs the UK
strategy on drugs would be reviewed.

The law downgrading cannabis to the level of less harmful drugs could be
reversed. It could be moved back from class C to class B. When it was
downgraded in 2004, it was moved from a class including amphetamines to
one which covered anabolic steroids and Prozac.

Any reclassification would mean higher penalties and more arrests of
people found with the drug.

Although Ms Pascoe is in favour of the change she said the experiences
of Rethink members showed that reintroducing tougher criminal penalties
for possession and use would do nothing to reduce use.

She said: "What most people who have experienced the misery of
developing mental illness from using cannabis want to see is a
properly-funded health campaign, not harsher laws that end up
criminalising people who have developed a health problem."

Mike Blank, chief executive of Surrey Alcohol and Drug Advisory Service,
which receives around 1,000 calls a year from people worried about a
friend or family member's excessive cannabis smoking, agreed on links
between cannabis and mental illness.

He said: "The message needs to go out that if you have mental health
problems or a history of it yourself or in your family you should think
very seriously before you consider using cannabis."

Reigate MP Crispin Blunt, who, unlike MPs who confessed to smoking the
drug in the past, has never tried any illegal drugs, said: "What has
become much clearer is that the cannabis half the Cabinet were smoking
at university was not the same stuff people are smoking now. It has got
stronger and, I understand, can be lethally carcinogenic as well as
causing mental health problems."

One man taking a different view is Winston Matthews, a Horley resident
who stood for Parliament in the 2005 General Election as a Legalise
Cannabis Alliance candidate. He said cannabis was the least harmful drug
in classes B and C and, regardless of articles in the press, people knew
it was not very bad for them.

He said: "The downgrading in 2004 seemed to open the doors for people
saying cannabis contributes to psychosis. If you are under 15 and take
it, you may develop it but it is all speculative and they have still
found no cause or link for what they call reefer madness."

But Mr Matthews said the strength of cannabis in the 1970s and 1980s had
never been recorded to be able to compare it with potent strains such as
"skunk" available now. He said cannabis resin, or hashish, a solid
substance made with parts of the cannabis plant and often baked in
cookies or meals, could now be mixed with other substances like grit,
plastic, soap or even ketamine, another recreational drug, to increase
its weight and price. These were much more likely to cause harm to those
ingesting them.

He said: "If it was legalised and people were allowed to grow cannabis,
it would keep them away from the black market, which provides money for
things like terrorism and would keep them away from contamination."




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