Drug Education News

News and views from the Drug Education Forum

Statement on Cannabis

From Hansard the Home Secretary responding to a question from Keith Vaz MP about how the decision to reclassify cannabis will be conveyed to young people:

We are allocating more than £6 million this year, partly to the “Frank” campaign, which has proven very successful, with a high rate of recognition among young people, and in increasing by 12 percentage points the number of young people who now recognise that cannabis impacts on mental health. The drugs strategy, published at the end of February, made it clear that, together with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, we will work closely with parents through a new coalition of family charities; improve the information and guidance available to all parents; and continue to provide important drug advice through “Frank”, and also through improving universal education and information for children and young people about drugs, alcohol and other volatile substance misuse. That drugs strategy, together with the proposals that I have set out today, forms a coherent approach that sees reclassification as the start of the process, not the end. It also takes seriously the responsibility to ensure that the public health messages sent to young people and others are communicated clearly.

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Filed under: cannabis, classification, Frank, Government, Parliament,

Reclassification Reaction

Frankly it’s been a bit daunting trying to get a grip of all the reaction out there, but with no promises about chronology here’s what I’ve seen:

Bolton MP slams ‘pointless’ cannabis decision – The Bolton News carries Brian Iddon’s views, which include the need for better drug education.

Are voters getting drugs message? -The BBC’s home editor wonders who “the message” of reclassification is aimed at.

Split opinion on cannabis debate
– The BBC have two members of the public with different views.

Cannabis laws to be strengthened – The BBC report the government’s decision and what it means.

Q&A: Cannabis guidelines – The BBC look at how the police will enforce the new classification.

Home Secretary calls for squeeze on cannabis
– Children and Young People Now say the Home Secretary has asked the police to “crack down” on cannabis use.

No Need to Reclassify Cannabis – The Daily Star report the ACMD’s views.

Smith Snubs Experts Over Cannabis
– The Daily Star then says the government are going to reclassify despite the ACMD’s view.

Reefer madness: Do the drug laws work? – ask The Independent.

Smith tightens laws on cannabis – The Independent report.

Labour defies experts in cannabis crackdown – is how the Daily Mail sees it.

Ministers face row over cannabis regrading – in the Metro.

Skunk cannabis is three times stronger than ten years ago
– is the Mirror’s headline.

Government to rule on cannabis and Cannabis classification to be tightened – are the stories for Reuters.

Government set to defy its own experts and upgrade cannabis again; Smith upgrades cannabis to class B; Main Aim ‘must be to reduce demand’; and Scientists warn Smith over cannabis reclassification – were the four stories I saw in the Guardian.

The Telegraph had three stories that I saw: Cannabis reclassification Q&A, Cannabis to be upgraded to class B drug, and Cannabis U-turn Q&A they also have a video of the Home Secretary’s statement to Parliament.

The Times in their Rise of the ‘spliff society’ suggest it’s unlikely to make a difference to how young people view the drug. Elsewhere they report Cannabis goes back to Class B despite drug experts’ verdict.

The Express see it as Cannabis: Labour’s Latest U-Turn.

Away from the mainstream media there were three blog pieces that you may find useful.

Sara McGrail says Alas Smith and Brown, Transform stick their tongue firmly in their cheek saying Millions quit cannabis following reclassification, and Helen Sello questions whether messages about risk are best dealt with by the criminal justice system.

Filed under: ACMD, cannabis, classification, Government

Cannabis Returns to Class B

As you’ll no doubt have seen the ACMD report, Cannabis: Classification and Public Health, and the government’s announcement that cannabis is to be reclassified has been the subject of a lot of media reporting.

If I have time today I’ll try and capture all of that, but before I do that I thought it would be useful to look at what the ACMD say and how the Home Secretary and Parliament responded. Obviously I’ll focus on what they say about young people.

The ACMD

They recognise that young people are the predominant users of the drug, and that the British Crime Survey (BCS) is likely to underestimate the overall use of cannabis (because it doesn’t survey those under 16). However, they say that there appears to have been a decline in use by around 20% to 25% over the past 5 years and point out this is replicated in both the BCS and the national survey carried out in English secondary schools.

In terms of physical health harms they say:

Smoking cannabis is associated with longer-term damage to the respiratory tract and the lungs, with an increased risk of chronic bronchitis. There is also a potential long-term risk of lung cancer. Severe cases of lung damage (bullae formation) have been reported in young heavy cannabis users. The extent to which these longer-term effects are causally related to cannabis use is uncertain: such changes also occur in people who use tobacco over long periods of time. [page 10]

On mental health issues they say:

As discussed in our previous reports, there is clear evidence that the use of cannabis may worsen the symptoms of schizophrenia and lead to relapse. The high prevalence of cannabis use, as well as the use of other controlled substances among those with schizophrenia or psychotic disorder, is not well understood. Nevertheless, there are clear and obvious harms associated with the use of cannabis by people with psychotic disorders, and recent studies confirm this. The Council’s clinical experts report, anecdotally, that dealing with cannabis use (including dependence) is now a major element in the clinical management of many young men with established psychotic illnesses. [page 16]

It is evident that the majority of young cannabis users do not develop psychotic illnesses. Those who do so must have one or more predisposing factors. [page 20]

Later they say:

On balance, the Council considers that the evidence points to a probable, but weak, causal link between psychotic illness and cannabis use. Whether such a causal link will become stronger with the wider use of higher potency cannabis products remains uncertain.

Only a minority of young people who use cannabis will develop a psychotic illness. Hickman and colleagues estimate that around 5,000 young men, or 20,000 young women, would need to be prevented from using cannabis to avoid one person developing schizophrenia. [page 31]

They do, however, warn against “binge” smoking.

Looking at criminal and anti-social behaviour associated with the drug the council say:

A study among 11 to 19-year-old cannabis users showed that cannabis transactions among young people were social rather than commercial; and that they were not overtly linked to criminal markets.

Buying with friends – “chipping in” – was the most common way of purchasing cannabis because it allowed young people access even when they had only small amounts of money. Most purchases were from friends, friends of friends, or family members. Only 6% had bought cannabis from an “unknown seller”. [page 22]

They say that the median expenditure on cannabis amongst those surveyed was £20 a week, with most of the money coming from pocket money or part-time jobs.

Looking at why young people use the drug they cite a survey of 100 young people which found:

that the use of cannabis enabled them to relax, relieve boredom and enhance otherwise mundane, everyday activities. Nevertheless, young people also identified negative personal and social impacts, including lower academic attainment, poorer relationships with their parents and the possibility of getting a criminal record. Less than half the respondents stated that they had engaged in any activity they would regard as anti-social after smoking cannabis, and few suggested there was a causal link. [page 22]

In their section on the cultivation of cannabis the ACMD say that criminal groups involved in the domestic production of the drug include child labour.

Looking at what they think should happen they say:

There is consistent evidence, from different sources (Section 3), that the use of cannabis appears to have diminished by around 20% to 25% over the past five years. Nevertheless, use is still widespread, particularly among young people. Cannabis use is of particular concern to the Council because of the risks of precipitating relapse in those with schizophrenia (Section 7) and of enduring psychotic illnesses (Section 8). Vigorous steps should therefore be taken to minimise the supply of cannabis in the vicinity of psychiatric institutions and prisons, as well as educational establishments and extra-curricular and non-school facilities provided for young people,such as youth clubs. [page 30]

Turning to public perceptions they say:

Those seeking reclassification did so largely because they believed it would send out a signal to young people about the dangers associated with its use. Few, if any, however, wished to see the penalties for possession to be increased. Only 24% of the sample polled wished the penalties for possession to be increased while 67% sought for the penalties for possession to be either unchanged or abolished. [page 33]

In their conclusions and recommendations they say:

The Council hopes that the government, parliament and the public appreciate that the use of cannabis is, ultimately, a public health problem; and that it requires a public health response if current use and the associated harms are to be substantially reduced. Although the criminal justice and classification systems have a role to play – especially in reducing supply – the major emphasis must be directed at ways that drastically reduce demand (i.e. primary prevention), especially in the young; and to provide help for those who are dependent on cannabis (i.e. secondary prevention).

Recommendation 1: In the face of the widespread use of cannabis, a concerted public health response is needed to drastically reduce its use.

Recommendation 2: Special emphasis should be placed on developing effective primary prevention programmes, directed at young people.

They then say more about primary prevention:

The government should be congratulated on its FRANK campaign. Nevertheless, the Council recommends that a more generously resourced campaign to alert young people to the dangers of cannabis should be developed.

The recommendation is to develop a well-resourced campaign alerting young people to the dangers of cannabis.

They go on to say:

In addition, schools (including the independent sector) and local authority youth services should be required to develop and publish their policies relating to substance misuse. This should include the nature and extent of the teaching given to children (as advised by the Department for Children, Schools and Families), as well as the actions taken when pupils are found possessing or dealing illegal substances. The higher education sector should also (in view of the extensive use of cannabis by undergraduate students) be requested to develop and publish policies in relation to the actions taken where students or staff are found in possession of illegal drugs, including cannabis, both for personal use and for supply.

They also make a recommendation around research:

The scale and public health significance of current preparations of cannabis use in the UK require further research if the harmful consequences for future generations of young people are to be substantially diminished. This should include considerations of effects on families. Qualitative research on the impact of cannabis farms on local people should be undertaken.

Recommendation 14: The scale and public health significance of cannabis use in the UK require further research.

Efforts should be made to improve cannabis use data collected from children and the general population. We understand that the Home Office is considering the feasibility of including under-16s within the British Crime Survey (or a separate similar survey). We would welcome this approach and encourage the collection of drug-related data.

Recommendation 15: The Home Office should extend the British Crime Survey to the under-16s and the survey should include drug use.

They identify a need for research into those young people who might be at particular risk of developing enduring psychoses, which they think could inform an effective public health campaign; as could research they would like to see commissioned on collecting data on the incidence and prevalence of schizophrenia.

The Government

Their press release says:

Taking effect from early 2009, the reclassification will mean:

  • more robust enforcement against cannabis supply and possession, and those repeatedly caught with the drug will not just receive cannabis warnings
  • a new strategic and targeted approach to tackling cannabis farms and the organised criminals behind them
  • introducing additional aggravating sentencing factors for those caught supplying cannabis and other illegal substances near further and higher educational establishments, mental health institutions and prisons
  • working with the Association of Chief Police Officers to look at how existing legislation and powers can be used to curtail the sale and promotion of cannabis paraphernalia updating and
  • refreshing our public information messages on the harm caused by cannabis.

The Home Secretary is quoted saying:

‘Cannabis is and always has been illegal. It now dominates the illegal drugs market in the UK and is stronger than ever before.

‘There is accumulating evidence, reflected in the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs report, showing that the use of stronger cannabis may increase the harm to mental health. Some young people may be ‘binge smoking’ to achieve maximum possible intoxication which may be very serious to their mental health.

‘I make no apology for erring on the side of caution and upgrading its classification. There is a
compelling case to act now rather than risk the health of future generations.

The Health Secretary says:

‘The message has always been that cannabis is a harmful and illegal drug and should not be used. We are determined to ensure that young people in particular are well aware of all the risks. Our multi-media ‘FRANK’ campaign will ensure that this is the case.’

And the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families says:

‘Cannabis use by young people has been falling over recent years but remains a persistent problem. The reclassification sends the right message to young people about the risks from cannabis use – this is especially important given its increased strength and the heightened
risk to young people.

‘We also know parents are concerned about the recent trend towards the use of stronger strains of cannabis by young people and the potential for significant mental health problems that would severely impact on a young person’s future.’

Filed under: ACMD, cannabis, classification,

Put that in your pipe…

Matthew Taylor, the Chief Executive of the RSA, writes about the reclassification debate:

As the father of teenage sons I sometimes hear them talk about their peers smoking ‘weed’. For them it seems to be an aspect of identity, with smokers seen as a subset of what used to be called grungers; teens who wear baggie jeans, have long hair and spend a lot of time in their bedrooms listening to bands like Nirvana and their various imitators. My sons have different lifestyles and reference points so they tend to be disparaging about this particular subset of teen culture.

The point is that in all these discussions I have not once heard the idea that young people’s choices about cannabis are based on the law.

Indeed it is almost the reverse, as cannabis (the majority of which is now grown in the UK) has become easier and easier to get hold of it has lost some of its connotations of rebellion leaving young people to take a dispassionate view of its effects and its effects on those people who take a lot of it.

See also:

Filed under: cannabis, classification, RSA, ,

Cannabis in the News

Lots of cannabis stories over the long weekend, three from The Observer. It had a long piece, Hippie dream, modern nightmare, which includes this comment from Rethink:

‘Resources could be put to much better use educating young people and the public about the physical and mental health risks associated with cannabis – we know education, and health warnings are a cost-effective way to get results,’ said Paul Corry of Rethink. ‘We urge Gordon Brown to consider the facts and do the right thing with tax payers’ money – don’t waste time tinkering around with classification – invest in drugs education.’

A decision to reclassify cannabis this week will also have repercussions across the criminal justice system and end up hitting a disproportionate number of young people, according to those working at the frontline of the drugs war.

They also carry an opinion piece by Colin Blakemore which is sceptical about that young people will get the message that the Prime Minister hopes reclassifying the drug would send:

there is no evidence that classification influences the attitude of young people to drugs. Amphetamines, cocaine and ecstasy are all runners-up to cannabis in the league table of popularity in this country – and they are all class A. Usage of cocaine has grown over the past eight years, as that of cannabis has declined. Third, there is, quite rightly, a particular worry about young people. Yet the the government’s own figures show that only one 11-year-old in 150 has tried cannabis in the last year, while 4 per cent have sniffed glue and fully 21 per cent have drunk alcohol.

Finally a news article points out that:

81 per cent of cannabis seizures are of sinsemilla – the dried, herbal strain of the female cannabis plant – that contains high levels of psychotropic substances.

Six years ago, sinsemilla made up only 15 per cent of cannabis seizures while the majority were of the less potent resin.

All of which leads David Clark to blog:

So what is Gordon Brown trying to do? Look strong, as stated in one of the article’s comments? Or is he trying to protect the health of our young people?

If so, then why isn’t he trying to reduce the harm caused by alcohol – many would say government policy has increased harm – and certain addictive prescription drugs. And why isn’t he tackling major supermarkets and suppliers who many people argue are using unethical practices in relation to our food, which is creating a massive problem for the country – obesity.

Meanwhile in the Telegraph there’s concern that even if the drug is reclassified it won’t make any difference to how the police treat individual cases, and quote the Conservative’s home affairs spokesman, David Davis, who said:

“What kind of message does it send to young people about the danger
of this drug if you will still get away with a warning?

“Clearly the Prime Minister hasn’t got a grip on this policy – that makes him
part of the problem, not the solution.”

Senior police officers are however considering a crackdown on cannabis users
in the same way they target speeding motorists – by fining them £80.

Finally for now there’s a Guardian leading column arguing against reclassification:

From the 1970s until 2004 harsh dope laws sat on the statute book as a symbol of political resolve, yet with every year that passed more people smoked the drug. A new crackdown now will be even more of a sham, as the current policy shows some signs of working. After cannabis was downgraded four years ago it became more straightforward for police to confiscate and caution. Figures last month showed a big rise in the warnings being handed out – around 20,000 extra cannabis smokers annually are being dealt with by the police. For the first time since records began, cannabis is falling out of fashion: the British Crime Survey shows that the proportion of young people trying the drug has fallen by four percentage points since 2003. Whether or not that is connected to the new laws, going back to the approach followed through the decades when use was relentlessly rising would be perverse.

Filed under: cannabis, classification

Police reject tougher action on cannabis

The Guardian suggest that the police want to keep their flexibility on dealing with those caught in posession of cannabis:

An Acpo spokesman last night: “The key will be the discretion for officers to strike the right balance. We do not want to criminalise young people who are experimenting.” However, he stressed that cases involving “aggravating factors” were more likely to see an arrest and prosecution.

When the police announced their support for regrading cannabis as a class B drug this year, Simon Byrne, Merseyside’s assistant chief constable and the Acpo lead on policing cannabis, entered a little-noticed but crucial caveat to the police position. He said that since cannabis had been downgraded there had been growing concerns over increased potency, the rise of “homegrown” cannabis farms and a perception that its legal status meant it was seen as a low policing priority.

But he added that the police had supported the decision to downgrade the drug four years ago because of “the disproportionate time spent by frontline police officers in dealing with offenders in possession of small amounts of cannabis for personal use. Should the decision be taken to reclassify cannabis to a class B, Acpo believes the service should retain this flexibility in dealing with instances of possession on the street, including the discretion to issue warnings in appropriate circumstances”.

Meanwhile Reuters picks up the Prime Minister’s desire to send a message to young people about the harm that cannabis can cause.

Filed under: cannabis, classification, police, ,

The only message being sent is of cowardice and stupidity

Simon Jenkins writing in the The Guardian about cannabis classification says:

Even if the fall in consumption is not due to the 2004 reclassification, there is no evidence that reclassification increased harm. The fall was probably due to more education about the dangers of abuse, as occurs with bad news stories about ecstasy and LSD. Consumption by the young appears to respond to education rather than punishment.

Message laws are a classic Westminster fantasy. Three home secretaries have sought easy headlines by “demanding” a review of classification, wrongly implying thereby that class C was a non-criminal category. The advisory council has commendably stuck to its guns and to science, forcing Downing Street into a public display of stupidity.

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Filed under: ACMD, cannabis, classification,

Don’t criminalise my students for smoking cannabis, Mr Brown – Birmingham

Writing in the Birmingham Post Chris Game, a lecturer at the Institute of Local Government Studies at the University of Birmingham, decries the intention to reclassify cannabis.  He argues:

In short, recreational use of cannabis and to a lesser extent ecstasy and amphetamines is today part of the range of behaviours – sex, drinking alcohol, smoking, diet, exercise – that most young people regard as normal and about which they have personal choices.

Drug advice, however, is made harder for university authorities by the general demonisation of any and all ‘drugs’ and drug users by the media and society at large, and by the wretched ABC system that treats them all – except, of course, alcohol and tobacco – with zero tolerance.

Students are understandably hesitant to admit doing something that they know has officially to be regarded as illegal.

See also:

Filed under: cannabis, classification, university,

Cannabis in the News (2)

More coverage of the decision facing the government on the classification of cannabis:

And as with yesterday’s coverage there’s also “Cannabis causes impotency, doctors warn”, this time in the Telegraph.

Filed under: ACMD, cannabis, classification,

Cannabis in the News

Classification makes the news in a number of papers, they all are agreed that the government are going to reclassify cannabis, and that the ACMD don’t share that assessment:

Elsewhere the Daily Mail go with Cannabis ‘is making teenagers impotent’, say doctors.

Filed under: ACMD, cannabis, classification, ,

About this blog

This blog tries to pick up relevant media and research stories about drug education. It mainly focuses on information in England as this is the geographical remit for the Drug Education Forum. We welcome comments that are on topic.

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