Gordon Brown looks set to ignore scientific advice and upgrade cannabis next week. There is no official word from Downing Street, but Brown dropped heavy hints to that traditional home of serious political debate, GMTV.
The government's panel of advisors, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, gave its report to Home Secretary Jacqui Smith yesterday but Gordon Brown is giving loud signals that he will overrule the scientists.
Sprawling on the GMTV sofa, Brown described cannabis as lethal. He said: "I have always been worried about cannabis, with this new skunk, this more lethal part of cannabis... But the report has just come to us, we will look at it and we will publish our results very soon... But I think people know my view about cannabis and particularly about this lethal version of it, skunk."
A Whitehall source quoted by many newspapers said: "Mr Brown has made clear that, notwithstanding the scientific evidence, there are other considerations."
The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs(ACMD) yesterday delivered its report to the Home Office. The group of 23 scientists have been investigating the classification of cannabis since September 2007. It was specifically asked to consider its supposed impact on mental health, particularly schizophrenia. The committee found that reported cases of schizophrenia actually fell between 1998 and 2005 suggesting little link to cannabis use which has increased in the last two decades.
A Home Office spokesman said: "We have today (Monday 28 April) received full advice on cannabis classification from the independent Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. We are grateful for its detailed report and will now consider it carefully alongside other representations before making a decision on the appropriate classification for cannabis. Our message has always been that cannabis is an illegal and harmful drug that should not be taken.
"While evidence shows that cannabis use is falling across all age ranges, we are concerned about stronger strains of the drug. That is why we asked the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to undertake a review of cannabis classification."
The downgrade of cannabis to class C meant that police officers could confiscate it on the street and issue warnings. By making it class B possession will again become an arrestable offence, meaning officers will have to take offenders back to the station to be charged, or turn a blind eye to use.
Should Brown force an upgrade of the drug, he could face a legal challenge from campaigners. According to The Guardian any challenge would center on whether ministers opted for an upgrade without properly considering the council's report. ®