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David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): I thank the Home Secretary for the courtesy of allowing me advance notice of his statement. It would have been helpful, however, if he had given the House some hours to read the report before this brief discussion. Despite that, in the past year or so there have been plenty of authoritative judgments and many new facts on which to base our judgment today.

Before I deal with the substantive case, may I welcome the Home Secretary's proposed education and other campaigns designed to cut down the consumption of cannabis? I would be interested in talking to him at some length about his proposals for the new classification scheme, which is extremely important, as will become apparent later.

The action that the Home Secretary has taken today, or talked about taking, will not by itself be enough. I am disappointed that, in the light of all the new evidence available, he has not decided to grasp the nettle and reclassify cannabis back to class B. The ongoing confused message will lead some, as it has done already, to continue thinking that cannabis is a soft, safe drug and that it is legal. It will mean that many more young lives will be damaged by the pernicious trade, as he described it, in this dangerous drug.

It was a brave decision by the Home Secretary to initiate a review of this policy. It is always tough to admit that a mistake might have been made. In the past, his views on the matter have been clear. He said that the relaxation of the laws on cannabis—I think that he alluded to this in his statement—would be

He is correct. In March 2000, he said that

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He denies that today, but I think that he was right first time round. I will explain why shortly. He also said:

We will return to that matter. He also said that weakening controls on cannabis would send a signal that taking drugs is okay.

The Home Secretary might say, "So what? If the evidence changes, you change your mind", and I agree with that principle in general. The thrust of the evidence and leading opinion, however, is in the other direction. It shows that reclassification to class C was a mistake. From the Royal College of Psychiatrists, to the British    Medical Association, to specialists in drug rehabilitation, to working police officers, we hear that the policy was a failure.

The British Medical Association has said that reclassification sent out "all the wrong messages" to people thinking of experimenting with cannabis, and that reclassification would lead people to believe that it was "safe". Keith Hellawell, the Government's ex-drugs tsar, said that reclassification led to "euphoria amongst drug dealers". That is because

The Police Federation chairman, Jan Berry, said:


We know that the use of cannabis is a gateway to hard drugs. Research shows that regular cannabis users have a 59 per cent. higher chance of using other illegal drugs Most tellingly, new medical evidence has shown the serious harm that cannabis can do. To be fair to the Home Secretary, he referred to that. The Royal College of Psychiatrists says that there is now a "wealth of research evidence" linking cannabis to long-term mental disorders and violence. Professor Hamid Ghodse, a director of the college, said that as a result of the new evidence:

We now know that cannabis can cause psychosis. Professor Murray at King's college hospital in London has said that smoking cannabis raises the risk of psychosis by two to four times. People who used cannabis in their teens were up to seven times more likely to develop psychosis, delusional episodes or manic depression. The incidence of schizophrenia in that doctor's area of London has doubled, which means 50,000 people developing schizophrenia who would not otherwise have done so.

That new evidence demonstrates all too clearly the huge psychiatric damage, let alone the other physical damage, that cannabis does. That can only be expected to get worse, as modern cannabis varieties contain many times more psychoactive ingredients than cannabis of 10 or 20 years ago. As a result, modern cannabis does more harm than the older varieties. Professor Peter Jones of Cambridge university has said that first-contact
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schizophrenic services in the NHS were becoming cannabis dependency services.It is therefore clear that on the ground of medical risk alone, reclassification to B is justified.

That leaves us—the Home Secretary has a fair point—with a practical judgment as to what classification will do most to cut consumption of cannabis. That is undoubtedly hard to assess, but the best measure is perhaps the "Lambeth experiment" in cannabis liberalisation. The Prime Minister described that as,

Let us consider the statistics. Incidents of drug trafficking rose by 100 per cent. and total drugs offences rose by nearly 200 per cent. It did save the time of two full-time police officers, but Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Michael Fuller said that the increase in hard drug offences

He said that his school officers reported that

Chief Superintendent Simon Humphreys of the Met said:

That assessment was supported by a Police Federation official who said that the

The Home Secretary has said that

He was making a virtue of the fact that 24 per cent. of 16 to 24-year-olds took cannabis last year—those are the ones that we know about. That makes us the cannabis capital of Europe. In recent weeks, he has said:

He told The Times that he was

There are good reasons for that—good medical reasons, good public health reasons and good public order reasons.

The Home Secretary took a brave decision when he initiated the policy review. I admit that. He created an opportunity to protect or rescue thousands of young lives from harm by reclassifying cannabis as the very harmful and dangerous drug that it is. The fact that he has not followed through and taken the new evidence into account is a missed opportunity for him but, more importantly, a tragedy for many thousands of lives.

Mr. Clarke: There are four matters to which I need to respond. First, I hope that the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) will continue
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to make it clear in every public statement that he makes that the consumption of cannabis is illegal—not a soft, easy option or whatever. I agree with him that there are confusions and I have tried to set out a process to deal with those. It is therefore important that public leaders, such as me and him, work together constantly to convey the message that cannabis consumption is illegal, with a potential two-year sentence in all respects. I am sure that he will do that—indeed, I am delighted that he will do so. I welcome his welcome of the review of the classification system and I will talk to him about it as he requested.

Secondly, evidence must be the core of what we do in this area—evidence of consumption and evidence of mental health and other health implications, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. That is why I said in my statement that we will continue to review the matter on the basis of evidence as it evolves over time. I am certain that that is the right course to follow. Thirdly, the right hon. Gentleman made a large number of statements, with which I agreed entirely, about the dangers of the use of cannabis. I think that he was signing up to the proposition that the central aim of our policy ought to be to reduce the use of cannabis by whatever means, with which I agree 100 per cent.Finally, the right hon. Gentleman referred to the wide range of opinion that exists in the advisory council, among police and among drug and health charities. We must, however, make a balanced judgment.

As the right hon. Gentleman well knows, there is also a wide range of opinion in his party. As is shown in the Home Affairs Committee's report of 2001–02, the Leader of the Opposition—the current Leader of the Opposition, unfortunately; I wish that it had been the right hon. Gentleman—voted in favour of the then Home Secretary's proposal to reclassify cannabis as a class C drug. He has said that that was the case. Nine Members voted in the Division, and the Leader of the Opposition voted as he did. Extraordinarily, there was then a Division in Committee on an amendment containing the words

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