THE Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs reported last week that it saw no reason why cannabis should be reclassified from a class C to a class B substance.
It reviewed its previous decision at the request of the Prime Minister, who is clearly unhappy with the current position of this dangerous drug.
Before I continue let me put this classification debate into perspective. I very much doubt that when one of our children is offered a “joint” to smoke they will have any regard for the category it holds.
They will be engaged by the excitement and experience of the moment. Moreover, although a higher classification equals an increased penalty the courts have rarely meted out the maximum.
I stress that this is not a technical issue. It is one which affects our perception of this substance and as we all know, without first-hand experience of something, perception becomes reality.
I am not at all surprised by Gordon Brown’s request because I know he – and the majority of his Cabinet colleagues – were very much against the downgrading of this substance when it was pressed upon them by David Blunkett in his days as Home Secretary.
I felt the same and resigned over the issue.
Although successive Home Secretaries have expressed their reservations about re-grouping cannabis with steroids, slimming tablets and other legally obtainable substances I was pleased that someone with the authority of Gordon Brown called for a second look.
The ACMD is a statutory body set up some years ago by politicians to advise them on this subject.
It is made up of a large number of individuals, the majority of whom come from the medical profession.
The police are represented by a chief constable and I held that position for a number of years.
It is, as its title says, advisory. It reports directly to the Home Secretary, who can accept or disregard the advice it gives.
While I was a member a number of our recommendations were turned down by the Home Secretary of the day, largely because of their political sensitivity, not for objective reasons.
There is therefore an opportunity for Jacqui Smith, the current incumbent, to reject their latest advice if she believes it is in the best interest of the citizens of this country.
However, I am very sceptical about the whole affair as in the past the recommendations of the ACMD were kept secret until the politicians had decided whether or not to act upon them.
This allowed the Home Secretary to make what they knew would be unpopular decisions without the public ever knowing they had been made.
In this case, however, the newspapers had been fully briefed by someone - I suspect from within the ACMD as so much detail has been made available - before any decision could be made.
This puts the Prime Minister in a very difficult position as he will have to publicly over-ride the advice of a specialist body to do what he believes to be right.
I do hope he had the backbone for this as the decision to reclassify downwards was not taken in the interests of the people of this country.
It was taken by a man who thought it would curry favour with the “chattering classes” in London with whom he was too closely associated at that time.
We learn from the “leak” that the ACMD have come to their conclusion because of the evidence presented to them by one of their members.
While I have not seen this piece of research I question its veracity as it goes firmly against the trend of recent findings which establishes cannabis as very injurious to both physical and mental health.
Moreover, the Association of Chief Police Officers put forward the greater use of stronger strains of cannabis as the reason for their support for the reclassification.
Cannabis is two or three times more carcinogenic than tobacco.
It also damages mental health, it is a gateway to more dangerous substances, it contributes to death on the roads, it reduces the potential of thousands of young people and it destroys families.
It was irresponsible for anyone in power to give the message that this substance was less dangerous than it really is.
I plead with Gordon Brown to show true leadership in this instance.