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I will be looking at statistics from the British Crime Survey, the Office of National Statistics, two reports from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) which looks at policing cannabis as class B drug as well as a class c drug separately, and finally I will be looking at journals written by both the government in terms of the Home Office and independent sources that have advised the government on the matter of cannabis.
According to the Office of National Statistics drug offences accounted for only 3 per cent of all recorded crime in England and Wales during the this period of 2005/06. 23 per cent was the total percentage of recorded drug offences had increased by in the period of 2005/06 compared with the period of 2004/05(ONS, 2000). The 23 per cent increase was for the most part, due to a 36 per cent rise in the recording of possession offences that coincided with an increase in the number of formal warnings issued for the ownership of cannabis. This increase in formal warnings accounts for around two thirds of the increase in cannabis ownership offences. (Home-Office, 2006)
It is estimated that around two million people in the UK use cannabis in one form or another. Almost 9% of adults aged between 16-59 and 10% of 16 year olds or younger have been said to be using cannabis in the past year. (Pulse, 2007)
'Anti-drugs co-ordinator, Keith Hellawell states that those who used cannabis were more likely to move on to hard drugs. Mr Hellawell said that a study in New Zealand, which observed the drug habits of 1,200 people from birth to the age of 21, proved cannabis acted as a "gateway" to more harmful hard drugs. The survey found that young people who smoked a joint once a week were 60 times more likely to progress on to harder drugs than people who did not smoke cannabis.' (The Independent, 2000)
According to research cannabis was the most generally used drug amongst young people aged 11 to 19 year olds. In research done in 2000 by the government, show that 12 per cent of young people aged between 11 to 15 years in England were using cannabis. In England and Wales, 25 per cent of young people aged 16 to 19 years were using cannabis on a regular basis. (ONS, 2000)
The use of cannabis amongst young people has fallen notably since the reclassification of it in 2004, according to the BCS figures. (Home-Office 2007) 'The Home Office figures showed the proportion of 16 to 24-year-olds who had used cannabis in the past year fell from 25% when the change in the law was introduced to 21% in 2006/2007.' (Guardian, 2007)
A report by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction state that the use of cannabis among young people in the United Kingdom was 35% in 2003, as was France, the Netherland was 28% where as Sweden and Portugal was 8%. (EMCDDA, 2003)
A report by The Beckley Foundation 2004 states that there is still a high proportion of young people who are smoking cannabis, this is quite worrying due to the lack of knowledge about cannabis' true long term effects. (The Beckley foundation, 2004) The report also states that the United Kingdom has one the highest prevalence rates for the use of cannabis in the world.
The impact of the new "confiscate and warn" policy towards those found with cannabis was also reflected in a 54% rise in the number of cannabis seizures to over 117 thousand, and in the issuing of formal warnings to over 63 thousand in 2005.(Guardian, 2007)
'One in seven of all known offenders in England and Wales were arrested for the ownership of cannabis,' according to research done by the JRF. (JRF, 2002) JRF found that most offences that resulted possession, often come to light as a by-product of other investigations, such as delinquent behaviour, hanging around in public places. 'A minority of patrol officers concentrate on cannabis offences: 3 per cent of officers who had made any arrests for possession accounted for 20 per cent of all arrests.' (JRF, 2002)
Arrests for possession of cannabis, very rarely lead to the discovery of any serious crimes. (JRF, 2002) 'The financial costs of policing cannabis amount to at least '50 million a year (including sentencing costs), and absorb the equivalent of 500 full-time police officers.' (JRF, 2002)
Health risks associated with cannabis include schizophrenia, reduced reproduction, neurological damage, vascular damaged. (Wikipedia, 2007)
'The health effects experienced by a user will depend not only on the fact that cannabis was used, but also on a host of other factors. Acute drug effects, for example, will be influenced by the dose, the mode of administration, the user's prior experience with the drug, concurrent drug use, and the user's expectation, mood state and attitudes towards substance use, as well as environmental, biological and genetic factors.' (WHO, 1997)
Due to the fact that all the health risks that have been associated with cannabis are not yet fully realised, it would be best if more research is done in this area over a long period of time. However like the quote states above cannabis like any drug including cocaine, aspirin, alcohol, and ecstasy etc effects different people in different ways. Someone taking one ecstasy tablet can die from its effects on their body but someone else could take several and feel fine.
The research that I have done has concluded that re-classification of cannabis to a Class C drug has not yielded any financial savings. One of the main benefits of reclassification procession would be considered a non-financial one, as it would aid in removing a source of friction between the police and young people, according to JRF
The policing of cannabis across the United Kingdom are not consistent. The way that the police enforce the law when it comes to cannabis is haphazard at times. From my reading some places offer more cautions than others. Also if a person under the age of 16 is caught with cannabis on their persons they will have to be taken to the police station, where a person over the age of 18 would have the cannabis taken off them and sent on their way. According to a report by JRF in 2002 the police would rather have the law be the same with regards to over and under 16's.
Many people in the public and the health and social care profession are unclear about the message the government is putting out about cannabis. Is cannabis illegal; is it dangerous, why are the government reclassifying cannabis back to a class B drug? These questions would suggest that the government policy at the moment is not working because the need to reclassify the drug in the first place would suggest that not enough research was done in the first place. In a report done in 2008 by the Home Office on cannabis potency shows, that the cannabis that is available on the streets is of a very high potency, this cannabis is often called skunk or high grade, due to its high potency levels. (Home-Office, 2008)
However skunk has always been around, so if the government had consulted young workers, doctors, young people etc before down grading cannabis in the first instance, there would have been a stronger message given out.
'There has been a tenfold increase in the number of ownership offences since the mid-1970s.' however the JRF have found no evidence to suggest that this increase, is down to any specific policy implemented by any government or policy makers from the 1970's to the present date . (JRF, 2002)
All in all I would have to conclude that the government's policy on cannabis seems to throw up mixed results. Firstly, criminal records show that cannabis usage is decreasing, however the time and money spent policing cannabis has not decreased significantly. Health professionals also believe that cannabis can cause serious damaged to users mental health, but they admit more research over a longer period of time is needed.
This New Labour government is very big on evidence based research and policy. However not enough research was originally carried out for them to justify the down grading of cannabis, this point is proved by the fact that the government are now thinking of reclassifying cannabis. This not only looks bad on the government as it makes them seem incompetent, but more importantly it sends out the wrong message to those who are most influenced by cannabis in general.
To sum up, I personally feel that the government policy on cannabis has worked in some areas, like for instances, allowing the doctor, social workers and teachers etc to focus more on users of the harder drugs, with programmes like 'ask Frank' in the case of younger people. Unfortunately though, in other areas such as health, policing and economic the change in policy has not been effective at all.