The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) will set itself on a collision course with the Government tomorrow when it seeks to persuade the Home Secretary that cannabis should remain at its current status as a class C drug.
The council's refusal to go along with the Government's commitment to crack down on cannabis may count against it when it comes under scrutiny as part of a review later this year. A Home Office spokesperson reiterated last week that the council's role is confined to providing advice on classification.
But one ACMD member, Professor Les Iversen, a pharmacologist at Oxford University, has warned that if its advice is ignored "it would call into question the whole function and future of this group". And Dr Richard Pates, a clinical psychologist and member of the body until last December, said: "I suspect there is political influence being put on the ACMD, but it has a great deal of integrity."
Politicians remain divided on what has become a fiercely fought issue that has propelled the use of cannabis and its impact on mental health to the forefront of the drugs debate. David Blunkett, who as Home Secretary was responsible for downgrading cannabis in 2004, is unrepentant and has said: "Classifying cannabis as class C is a much more honest approach, both politically and in terms of how the drug is policed." David Cameron, the Conservative Party leader, who recommended reclassifying cannabis to class C when he was on the Home Affairs Select Committee, is now more in line with Gordon Brown. He has admitted: "I think on reclassification we got it wrong ... the sort of cannabis now being smoked is so strong and there is such a link to mental health issues that it should be class B."
Pressure on the Prime Minister to take decisive action and override the wishes of the ACMD is growing. Professor Robin Murray, one of Britain's top experts on schizophrenia and cannabis, will warn MPs of what he says are the real dangers of the drug at a meeting tomorrow of the All Party Parliamentary Committee on Cannabis and Children. "Education is much more important than classification," he said. "The problem is that education costs money, switching the classification doesn't."Reuse content