UK government relaxes marijuana laws

Photo: BBCPhoto: BBCBritish Home Secretary David Blunkett became a hero to many pot smokers when he announced in late October that he was advocating major UK drug law changes.
Acting on the advice of police, doctors, scientists, academics and bowing to the wishes of the general public, Blunkett said he’d reclassify cannabis so that mere possession of it would not be an arrestable offense.

Under existing law, people caught possessing cannabis face a maximum of five years in jail. People caught selling cannabis can be sentenced to as long as 14 years in jail. After Blunkett’s proposals are enacted next spring, possession of cannabis will be punishable by a maximum of two years in jail; dealers will face a maximum five year sentence.

British police do not formally arrest people for offense punishable with less than five years in jail. People caught with small amounts of cannabis or small numbers of cannabis plants would be issued a paper summons instead of being arrested. Legal analysts say prosecutors are unlikely to spend time on cannabis cases once the drug is reclassified from its current category on the British “schedule” of illegal substances to a less-alarmist category that includes anti-depressants and steroids.

Blunkett said he would recommend the legal use of cannabis-based drugs for medicinal reasons, subject to the outcome of clinical trials to be completed in 2003.

Don Wirtshafter, an American attorney, founder of the Ohio Hempery, and advisor to England’s premier medical cannabis research company, GW Pharmaceuticals, said that Blunkett’s announcement is an affirmation that GW founder Dr Geoffrey Guy had the right idea when he began growing tens of thousands of cannabis plants with government permission two years ago (CC#26, UK doc grows pharmaceutical pot).

“Dr Guy knew that cannabis contains valuable medicines,” Wirtshafter said. “He helped convince the government and medical experts to give it a look. They found that cannabis has extremely low toxicity and side effects, and Dr Guy found cannabinoid profiles that work for medical conditions and he is testing delivery devices that should be very useful for patients. GW’s main challenge was to use scientific methods to prove that cannabis worked and get government approval for cannabis medicines. We are on the verge of doing that.”

Blunkett’s announcement was also good news for UK activists like Free Rob Cannabis, Biz Ivol and Colin Davies, and for Dutch coffeeshop owner Nol Van Schaik.

“We don’t know if the prosecutors fully understand what the Home Secretary has signaled,” Van Schaik commented, “but we believe our decision to open the first UK coffee shop, primarily so we could distribute cut-rate marijuana to medical patients, is in step with Blunkett’s change of direction. One of the reasons he gave for changing the policies is so police wouldn’t spend time or resources enforcing marijuana laws. The police worked hard to harm Colin and all the people who were counting on him for cannabis, and now they are going to have an even harder time justifying what they did. They should just drop all the charges and give us back our weed. They should leave weed people alone from now on.”

The Home Secretary denied allegations that his liberalization scheme is equivalent to legalization or an attempt to imitate Dutch marijuana policies, but he was criticized by former conservative leader Peter Lilley for not going far enough. Lilley said that the government should create “licensed cannabis outlets” so that marijuana delivery and sales would be free of criminal influences.

Van Schaik agreed.

“The British need public coffee shops, as we have in Holland, that are supervised to keep out hard drugs,” he said. “Everybody all across Europe, especially people who use cannabis medically, should be able to go to a clean, safe, classy place and purchase the best cannabis for reasonable prices. We applaud the Home Secretary for his historic step, and invite him to visit The Dutch Joint. If he wants to smoke a joint with us, I don’t think he has to worry about being arrested anymore!”Photo: BBC

– BBC News, Cannabis laws to be relaxed
– CC 33, GW Pharmaceuticals