Leading article: Cannabis and the clouds of confusion

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Of all the "reviews" announced by Gordon Brown when he became Prime Minister last summer – from super-casinos to licensing laws – the inquiry into the re-classification of cannabis was one of the most cynical.

The right-wing press had been demanding for some time that the drug be elevated into the more serious category of narcotics. And so, despite the fact that the Government had downgraded cannabis to Class C only three years before, and despite the absence of any irrefutable evidence to support the assertions about its effect on mental health, Mr Brown gave the populist media what they wanted; or at least held out the prospect of it, by asking the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs – the official body which advises the Government on such matters – to review the legal status of cannabis.

The council now seems to have returned the wrong answer. A leaked report suggests it has decided that cannabis should, in fact, remain a class C drug. It has reportedly looked into the research again and found no new evidence to support the theory that cannabis use has resulted in an increase in the incidence of schizophrenia. And yet we are told that Mr Brown is still minded to re-classify the drug. In which case, the leaking of the advisory council's opinion serves a useful purpose.

We now know that, if the Prime Minister announces a reclassification of cannabis in the next few weeks, he will have stubbornly decided to privilege prejudice and political calculation over expert advice and scientific evidence.

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