There have been calls for cannabis to be made a Class A drug in the UK (putting it in the same category as heroin and cocaine) by senior police and government officials.
The prime minister at the time (Truss) distanced herself from these calls, saying there are “no plans’ to reclassify cannabis.
However, the government is doubling down on its drug war, recently announcing tougher punishments for “recreational” drug users, including the confiscating of driving licences and passports for those caught.
During her first stint as the UK home secretary, Suella Braverman was reported by The Sunday Times to be considering upgrading cannabis to class A amid concerns it had become a “gateway” drug to more harmful substances.
Not long before that, a group of Tory police and crime commissioners (PCCs) also called for cannabis to be reclassified as Class at the Conservative party conference in Birmingham.
They claimed that a “wealth of new data” on the negative health effects of cannabis had come to light, saying it’s “time we realised that it is not just a little bit of weed”.
David Sidwick, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Dorset, said cannabis was “driving harm” in communities “because it’s a gateway drug.”
However, in places where cannabis is legalised, you do not see increases in the use of other drugs. In fact, there is evidence that the use of other drugs, particularly opioids and prescription drugs, reduces.
Additionally, the “wealth of new data” on the harms of cannabis is never actually cited.
I did find this recent twin study though, which found that moderate cannabis use is not associated with negative physical health effects. And this one that found cannabis smoke isn’t a likely cause of small airway injury, lung disease, lung cancer, or COPD.
Or what about this one that found cannabis consumers had less severe cases of Covid-19 whilst in hospital than non-consumers?
Following Braverman’s calls, the prime minister’s official spokesman said: “There’s no plans to change the laws around cannabis.
“Our priority is on cracking down on illegal drugs and the crime they drive. We’ve launched a drug strategy backed by record investment to deliver a whole-system approach to tackling supply and demand.”
Scottish Health Secretary Humza Yousaf was critical of the idea, describing it as “regressive” and “dangerous”.
Arfon Jones, former North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner said reclassifying cannabis to Class A is “disjointed and draconian” and “not supported by any evidence.
“History has shown that the prohibition of cannabis over the last 50 years has not been effective and use has increased.”
Drug policy analysts Steve Rolles and Niamh Eastwood argued in the Telegraph that the proposal “flies in the face of all evidence and reason”.
UK’s failed drug war
The UK insists that the way to tackle high rates of drug use is to punish those you use and supply them.
Unfortunately, this approach has not worked for the last 50 years and instead increases crime, violence and overall harm.
Criminalising drugs pushes the economic activity into the shadows, meaning money flows to organised crime groups and consumers are at greater risk of impure products and lack of education about using them safely.
Rather than handing out harsher punishments to those who use and supply drugs – as was announced this summer by the UK government – harms could be massively reduced by legalising and regulating drugs and providing honest education on using them safely.
So, no, the UK has no plans to reschedule cannabis as a Class A drug.
However, the very fact that there are people in high levels of the police and government calling for it, should be a concern.
As should the government’s plans to crack down further on recreational drug use with penalties like passport confiscation.
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