THE PUBLIC was misled about the dangers of taking cannabis when the Government unwittingly decided to downgrade the drug less than a year ago, the British Home Secretary admits today.
In a highly critical assessment of the decision taken by his predecessor, David Blunkett, Charles Clarke said he is "very worried" about recent evidence suggesting a strong link between cannabis and mental illness. He made these damning remarks in an interview with The Times, just weeks before he must decide whether or not to execute an embarrassing about-turn and restore the drug's Class B status.
Clarke said there was an alarming lack of knowledge about the health dangers posed by the drug among the general public. He also admitted that many people had been left confused by the law change. "Whatever happens after this, there will be a renewed commitment to public education about the potential affects of the consumption of cannabis, and its legal status.
Asked specifically if the confusion was a result of Blunkett's decision to downgrade the drug, he said people did not understand the impact and legal consequences of consumption of cannabis. Over Christmas, Clarke read the report from a special advisory group he set up to assess the latest medical evidence, and shall discuss its findings with colleagues this week before making a final decision.
Leaks of the report suggest the Advisory Committee says use of the drug is clearly linked to mental illness, but stops short of recommending reclassification. Clarke said he is most worried (on the downgrading of cannabis) about the confusion among the punters about the legal status of cannabis.
The drug was downgraded in the hope that it would allow the police to focus on more serious drug abuse. Clarke said it was significant how many advocates of the change had had second thoughts.
Although an about-turn would be embarrassing, it may cause the Labour fewer problems in the long run. Mr Clarke will champion curbs on antisocial behavior this year, which strategists say is undermined by a soft approach to cannabis.