United Kingdom: Parliament To Vote On Enacting Stiffer Pot Penalties — Prime Minister Gordon Brown Calls Cannabis “Lethal;” Urges Parliament To “Send A Message”

London, United Kingdom: Home Secretary Jacqui Smith announced plans this week to reclassify cannabis as a Class B drug under British law. If the change is approved by Parliament, it would increase the penalties for minor pot possession from a verbal warning (under current policy) to up to five years in jail.

Smith’s recommendation contradicts the findings of Britain’s Advisory Panel on the Misuse of Drugs, which issued a report this week calling for cannabis to remain classified as a Class C ‘soft’ drug. The panel determined that pot lacks the health risks of other Class B drugs such as amphetamines and barbiturates, and concluded that use of the drug is unlikely to cause mental illnesses such as schizophrenia.

“The evidence for the existence of an association between frequency of cannabis use and the development of psychosis is, on the available evidence, weak,” the Panel found. “The council does not advise the reclassification of cannabis products to Class B; it recommends they remain within Class C.”

It is the third time in six years the Advisory Panel has recommended to Parliament that cannabis be classified as a Class C drug, a category that includes anabolic steroids and Valium.

Since taking office last June, Prime Minister Gordon Brown (Labour) has consistently pushed for increasing British pot penalties, claiming that marijuana’s use can be fatal. “[T]he cannabis on the streets is now of a lethal quality and we really have got to send out a message to young people,” Brown stated last week. “[T]his is not acceptable.”

Parliament downgraded cannabis possession to a non-arrestable offense in 2004. Since then, marijuana use by young people age 16 to 24 has fallen approximately 20 percent. According the statistics published by the British Home Office last year, only eight percent of Britons now report using cannabis, the lowest percentage ever recorded by the agency.

Home Office statistics also indicate that police seizures of cannabis have increased since 2004, though the total number of Britons arrested for pot-related violations has fallen.

A spokesperson for the Association of Police Officers told the UK Guardian newspaper that police would continue to issue verbal warnings to most minor pot offenders – regardless of whether Parliament eventually reclassifies cannabis.

For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director, at (202) 483-5500, or Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director, at: paul@norml.org.