Despite being advised by their own experts not to do it, the government today outlined its determination to “get tough” with cannabis users, to “send a message” and to make it clear that it is determined cannabis will remain an uncontrolled illegal drug. So it was the Jacqui Smith announced the stiff new laws they are considering. As predicted some time ago, cannabis is going to be a very special class B drug with a policing regime all of its own.
Before we go on, it might be an idea to recap on what the actual law is with respect to cannabis and how it’s evolved over the years.
Before the reclassification to class C, cannabis was a class B uncontrolled drug during which it’s use skyrocketed. This meant that anyone who possessed it faced a maximum prison sentence of 5 years and if done for dealing, 14. When the change to C happened the conditions attached to class C drugs were changed so that THE ONLY change in the law was a reduction from 5 to 3 years for possession. EVERYTHING ELSE remained unchanged. The police still had the right to arrest users and the courts could still impose draconian penalties. However, the police were given the discretion to issue a warning providing there were no other “aggravating circumstances” – one of which would be repeated offending – whereas previously they had more often than not ignored simple possession unofficially.
It should be emphasised that very very few, if any, people have ever suffered the maximum penalty available to class C cannabis – not even people involved in large scale grow operations.
So now we have the new tougher regime and the stern message of class B. A warning for first time possession, a fixed penalty fine for the second go and then arrest third time around. We’re moving from the lax regime where you can be arrested for the first time offence to the stricter regime where you get arrested after the third.
The actual police on the street will be in the front line of issuing these penalties of course, apart from anything else that is going to do wonders for police community relations as the police are seen to become judge and jury.
But more importantly it shows how pointless the move to B really is. This is as strong as they can make the law against cannabis and they know it. The only “value” – if that word can be used in this context – of the move to B was to make possession an arrest able offence punishable by imprisonment. Clearly this is a PR stunt which – other than for a few unlucky people – means little or nothing in practice.
What it will certainly not do is act as any more of a deterrent against large scale grow operations, which is one of the reasons so often claimed for the return to B .
Also of interest is something reported by the Telegraph
Health warnings will also be printed on packets of cigarette papers for the first time under the crackdown.
This is an interesting development because it will mean shops selling rolling papers will now be aware they are selling paraphernalia which is used for the taking of an illegal drug. This is something they’ve been utterly forbidden to admit before. We await the wording with interest.
Overall the stupidity carries on, the government flatly refusing to control the cannabis trade, instead playing up to the tabloid media by demonstrating it’s faith is a regime it knows cannot work.