Cannabis law may backfire, warns Paddick

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The Independent Online

The reclassification of cannabis risks backfiring with "no gain" just "pain", warned the police chief who pioneered the so-called "softly softly" liberal approach to marijuana.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Brian Paddick of the Metropolitan Police reopened the debate about the downgrading of cannabis by saying there was a danger police officers were going to ignore the new law - while the public wrongly thought the drug was legal.

Mr Paddick caused controversy with his "softly softly" experiment involving cannabis possession in Lambeth, south London.

The decision last month by David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, to downgrade cannabis from class B to class C, but to allow the police to retain the power of arrest, has provoked criticism from police chiefs and drug reformers for being a confusing "muddle".

According to the guidelines, police officers should warn people and confiscate their drugs when caught with cannabis. But officers are expected to arrest people if the offender is repeatedly caught, smokes it openly in public, is stopped near a school or is causing a public nuisance.

Mr Paddick said some chief constables have decided to ignore the guidelines and continue arresting people. "If police ignore the reclassification ... then you are not saving anything to put into more serious crime." The change in status also reflects the belief that other drugs, such as heroin and crack cocaine, are more dangerous," he said.