DRUG WAR BRIEFS: Britain Decriminalizes Cannabis

Britain's Home Secretary (Justice Minister) David Blunkett announces that the New Year will herald an easing of Britain's cannabis laws, currently the strictest in Europe. The news was widely welcomed throughout the UK as a follow-up poll showed 65 percent support cannabis legalization.

October 23- BBC News reports: Home Secretary David Blunkett has announced he wants the UK's laws covering cannabis to be eased so possession will no longer be an arrestable offence.

The aim is to free police to concentrate on harder drugs and improve current legislation so it will "make more sense" to people on the street, he said. In a parallel move, licensing of cannabis derivatives for medical use - such as the relief of multiple sclerosis symptoms - will be given government backing if current trials prove successful. Cannabis possession and supply would remain a criminal offence, attracting maximum sentences of five years for supply and two years for possession.

But rather than arresting people caught with cannabis, police will be more likely to issue a warning, a caution or a court summons.

Mr Blunkett said the re-categorisation was supported by the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir John Stevens, and "many of those engaged in law enforcement across the country". Re-categorisation of cannabis was one of the recommendations in a Police Foundation report by Lady Runciman last year, roundly rejected by the government at the time.

Lady Runciman called the home secretary's move "very sensible and welcome". "It will make the law much more credible with a much more accurate hierarchy of drugs," she said. Mr Blunkett could look forward to almost certain approval for the change from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, Lady Runciman added.

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Simon Hughes said: "The announcement on cannabis is welcome but it is extraordinary that it has taken so long."

October 24- The (UK) Times reports: David Blunkett's proposals to reduce the classification of cannabis were widely welcomed by everyone from the police to celebrity pot-smokers.

Among those in favour was David Bailey, the photographer who, in 1967, was one of 64 signatories to a petition to Roy Jenkins, then Home Secretary, calling for reform of the law. At that time Mr Bailey, along with luminaries who included John Lennon, Brian Epstein, Paul McCartney, Jonathan Miller and Kenneth Tynan, signed a famous full-page advertisement in The Times.

When The Times told Mr Bailey last night of the news, he said: "Oh, good! About time. It's a step in the right direction. The Home Secretary is very brave. He confessed to taking the occasional puff of a joint at parties and said: I do think it ought to be legalised."

Rosie Boycott, the former Editor of the Daily Express, who campaigned for the legalisation of cannabis while Editor of the Independent on Sunday, said: "I'm glad that someone has seen sense to break the criminal connection and not make yet another generation into small-time criminals. Blunkett's proposals don't go far enough but this is not a day to carp. It's a great start."

October 27- The UK Guardian reports: A majority of Britons believe cannabis should be legalised and sold under licence in a similar way to alcohol, according to a new poll.

Some 65% of those questioned, agreed it should be legalised and 91% said it should be available on prescription for sufferers of diseases like multiple sclerosis.

The poll, carried out by Mori for the News of the World, follows the Government's announcement that the law on the drug has been eased.

While possession of cannabis will still be illegal, police will no longer be able to arrest those carrying it.

It will also be reclassified as a Class C drug, putting it in the same category as anti-depressants or steroids.

The poll says 56% of people aged 18-34 supported the plans. Only among the over-55s was there a majority opposed to them.

Some 47% said cannabis led to harder drugs, 41% said it does not.

A majority of those quizzed (53%) said the proposed change in the law would make no difference to the number of people taking cannabis.

Mori interviewed 603 Britons aged 18 or over on October 25 and 26.

Send tips and comments to Kevin Nelson at kcnelson@premier1.net.

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