Clarke may reverse cannabis liberalisation after health fears

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The Independent Online

A publicity drive to highlight the dangers of smoking cannabis will be launched this year after Charles Clarke hinted he was prepared to order a U-turn over the downgrading of cannabis from a class B drug to a class C.

The Home Secretary said there was "worrying" new evidence suggesting can-nabis is damaging mental health. He is preparing to announce the findings of a year-long review by experts.

Government sources insisted Mr Clarke had yet to decide whether to reverse the decision of his predecessor David Blunkett and upgrade the drug.

But Mr Clarke has said he was prepared "in principle" to reclassify it if fresh evidence showed it damaged health. He will announce his decision within two weeks. The report by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, was commissioned shortly after Mr Clarke took over.

He told the BBC: "I do believe it is worrying. We do not know a lot about the relationship but what we do know is concerning, and that is what I have to take into account when deciding finally what action to take. The precautionary principle is an appropriate one and I certainly have that as one of the considerations in my mind."

Martin Barnes, a member of the advisory council, said Mr Blunkett's decision had lowered use of the drug. "There has been more recent research that does indicate cannabis may cause mental health problems, whereas in the past it was accepted that it could worsen existing mental health problems. Since cannabis was reclassified, there has been much more debate, and some indication that the use of cannabis has started to decline. So on that basis, I think it would be quite difficult to sort of explain why we have to move it back to B." Mark Oaten, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, urged Mr Clarke not to bow to pressure to reclassify can-nabis. He said: "The Government should base drug classification on the facts and not tabloid pressure. The case for treating drugs in different categories remains strong and unless the advisory body make a strong argument to change this, the Government should resist reclassification."

David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, said: "We welcome the Home Secretary's recognition that there is new evidence about the dangers of cannabis, particularly with regard to mental health. We look forward to appropriate action from the Government, in particular to protect young people."