British Courts Regret New Leniency of U.K. Cannabis Laws

December 09, 2007 10:28 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Studies suggest that Britain’s decision to lessen the legal punishments for cannabis possession has backfired; crime rates are up and research points to serious psychological side effects—America may take note.

30-Second Summary

In 2004, with the backing of British law enforcement, the U.K. government relaxed the laws prohibiting the use of cannabis.

The drug moved from “class B,” which it shared with amphetamines, to “class C,” a category that includes certain painkillers.

Although possession is punishable by a maximum two-year prison sentence, down from five, the change in legislation has been followed by a rise in use and a drop in arrests, according to British newspaper The Independent.

In fact, counter to government expectations that “cannabis use was unlikely to motivate crime,” one study shows that in the English city of Sheffield 25 percent of young offenders turn to crime to pay for their habit. Of the 51 U.K. courts that specialize in underage offenses, 50 have signed a petition to the British government requesting that cannabis be returned to its previous classification.

These developments coincide with new research, published in the British medical journal The Lancet, showing that the drug increases the risk of psychosis among users by 41 percent.

The results of the British experiment will be chewed over in the U.S. by advocacy groups and legislators alike.

However, British writer and former doctor Theodore Dalrymple raises a point that the new statistics fail to highlight: “Far from being expanders of consciousness, most drugs severely limit it. One of the most striking characteristics of drug takers is their intense and tedious self-absorption.”

Headline Links: Reclassification ‘fuels crime wave’ and parental complacency

Background: Police supported the move to relax legislation

Opinion & Analysis: Should the police be more tolerant of cannabis use?

Contra tolerance
Pro tolerance
Rethinking legislation

Reference Material: U.K. drug classifications and U.S. laws

History: Hemp production to recreational use in the United States


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