Clarke announces tougher rules on 'date-rape' drugs

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The Independent Online

An overhaul of Britain's drug classification system was announced by Charles Clarke but he ruled out strengthening the law on cannabis.

The Home Secretary made clear his worries over the downgrading of the drug two years ago from a class- B to a class-C substance. But he confirmed that, on scientific advice supported by the police and most drugs charities, he would not reverse the move.

He promised a sweeping review of the 35-year-old system of classifying drugs into three categories and, in a separate move, signalled a toughening of controls on so-called date-rape drugs such as Rohypnol and GHB.

Mr Clarke said the classification system sent out "strong but confusing signals" to the public about different types of drug. "For example, many people wrongly interpreted the reclassification of cannabis to mean that cannabis was not harmful and that its use was acceptable and even legal," he told the Commons.

The classification system - which includes LSD and ecstasy, the popular clubbing drug, in the same category as highly addictive substances such as heroin and crack cocaine - has faced widespread critcism.

The Home Office insisted last night that the review would not result in the downgrading of different substances, but was designed to produce a "better emphasis on the real harm drugs can cause".

David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, denounced the decision as "a missed opportunity for [Clarke] and a tragedy for young people". Mr Davis's stance puts him at odds with his leader, David Cameron, who supports the downgrading of cannabis.