Britain 'deserves its drugs problem', says UN

Cannabis use has turned into a pandemic that is causing almost as much harm as cocaine or heroin, the head of the United Nations anti-drugs office says. He criticised governments, such as the UK's, which have downgraded the cannabis threat, saying that they have got the "drug problem they deserve".

Antonio Maria Costa, the executive director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, appealed to European political parties to agree a long-term strategy for reducing consumption of the drug, which he said was being used in 2004 by 164 million people worldwide. As well as being more widespread, the drug is "considerably more potent" than it was a few decades ago, he said.

Speaking at the launch of the World Drug Report in Washington, Mr Costa warned: "Policy reversals leave young people confused as to just how dangerous cannabis is. With cannabis-related health damage increasing, it is fundamentally wrong for countries to make cannabis control dependent on which party is in government.

"The cannabis pandemic, like other challenges to public health, requires consensus, a consistent commitment across the political spectrum and by society at large. Today, the harmful characteristics of cannabis are no longer that different from those of other plant-based drugs such as cocaine and heroin."

In January 2004, when David Blunkett was Home Secretary, cannabis was downgraded from class B to class C, meaning that possession of small quantities of the drug was no longer an arrestable offence. The decision was taken on the recommendation of the Advisory Committee on the Misuse of Drugs. In 2005, the committee was asked by Mr Blunkett's successor, Charles Clarke, to review the decision, but it recommended against reversing it.

Without naming the UK, Mr Costa fired a shot at governments which have relaxed their cannabis laws. He said: "After so many years of drug control experience, we now know that a coherent, long-term strategy can reduce drug supply, demand and trafficking. If this does not happen, it will be because some nations fail to take the drug issue sufficiently seriously and pursue inadequate policies. Many countries have the drug problem they deserve."

His comments were seized on by the Tories. The shadow Home Secretary, David Davis, said: "The Government's seriously confused course of action on cannabis has led to chaos and confusion in the enforcement of drug laws. This in turn has led to a continuing failure to reduce this dangerous threat to lives."

Cocaine use is also on the rise in Europe according to the UN. The report estimated there are 3.5 million cocaine users in Europe and that the trend is rising, especially in the UK and Spain.

Meanwhile, legal loopholes and a surge in internet sales have fuelled a rise in the use of magic mushrooms, according to a report from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction.

The report warned that, while changes to the law were dampening demand, they could also prompt an increased use of legal but toxic alternatives. Nearly 50 per cent of Britons aged between 15 and 24 have tried magic mushrooms, surveys found.The Czech Republic, the Netherlands, France and Belgium have the highest usage.

The report said: "Since 2001, six EU member states have tightened their legislation ... New legislation appears to have had an immediate impact on both the availability of hallucinogenic mushrooms in the UK.

"[But] the recent prohibition of psilocybin and psilocin-containing fungi appears to have provoked an emerging interest of retailers in alternative, legal, types of hallucinogenic mushroom such as Amanita muscaria (fly agaric). The active chemicals in these are known to carry substantial toxicity risks."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there