United Kingdom Home Secretary Suella Braverman is considering assigning a stricter classification of cannabis under the nation’s drug laws over concerns that marijuana is a gateway drug and can lead to serious health problems. Braverman’s review follows recent calls from fellow law enforcement leaders to reclassify cannabis as a Class A drug, the same category assigned to substances including heroin, cocaine, and ecstasy.
Braverman is against the decriminalization of cannabis, saying that efforts to reform cannabis policy send a “cultural” symbol that marijuana use is acceptable, according to a report from The Times. The home secretary is also concerned about evidence that cannabis use can lead to serious physical health problems including cancer and birth defects and mental health conditions including psychosis.
Currently, the U.K. government lists cannabis as a Class B drug, carrying penalties of up to five years in prison for possession and up to 14 years for production or trafficking. The more strict Class A drug designation for cannabis would make penalties for marijuana offenses more severe, including jail terms of up to seven years for possession and penalties of up to life in prison for marijuana producers and suppliers. An unidentified source close to Braverman told The Times that the home secretary believes the more severe penalties are warranted because they would serve as a deterrent to cannabis use and trafficking.
“We’ve got to scare people,” she reportedly said.
The bid to classify cannabis more strictly continues the Conservative government’s bid to address illegal drug use. In July, the Home Office, the government ministry responsible for law and order, immigration and security, published a white paper revealing a proposal to revoke the driver’s licenses and passports of people with multiple drug-related convictions.
Law Enforcement Leaders Call for Harsher Penalties for Weed
The home secretary’s support for stiffening the government’s classification of cannabis follows calls from law enforcement administrators earlier this week to reclassify marijuana as a Class A drug. At the time, The Home Office said there were no plans to reclassify the drug, while cannabis policy reform activists characterized the idea as “dangerous” and “crazy.”
At a Conservative Party conference held in Birmingham last week, a group of police and crime commissioners called for cannabis to be more strictly regulated, maintaining that it is time for the government to acknowledge that marijuana is more than “just a little bit of weed.”
Police and crime commissioners are elected officials with oversight of law enforcement operations in England and Wales, although they are not directly involved in passing criminal laws or managing police forces.
At the Birmingham gathering, police and crime commissioners called for a change in cannabis policy, saying that it is “time we realized that it is not just a little bit of weed.” David Sidwick, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Dorset, said that cannabis is “driving harm” in communities.
“We’re seeing it because it’s a gateway drug,” he said. “If you look at the young people in treatment, the number one drug they are in treatment for is cannabis.”
Sidwick, who formerly worked in the pharmaceutical industry, claimed that a “wealth of new data” on the drug’s effects on health has come to light, meriting a “re-evaluation” of the penalties associated with cannabis offenses. He added that law enforcement is needed in conjunction with drug education and rehabilitation, saying that designating cannabis as a Class A drug would provide clarity in enforcement policy.
“There are so many crimes linked to drugs that, actually, by addressing this, by giving us this clarity, it makes it clearer for our police to be able to do what they need to do,” he said.
But research does not support the theory that marijuana is a gateway drug that leads users to more harmful or addictive substances. In 2017, a report from the Drug Policy Alliance noted that while marijuana is the most widely used illicit substance in the world, it has never been proven to have an actual gateway effect.
“Research shows that marijuana could more accurately be described as a ‘terminus’ drug because the vast majority of people who use marijuana do not go on to use other illicit drugs,” reads the report.
Pot Activists Characterize Plan as ‘Crazy’
Peter Reynolds, the president of CLEAR, a group that campaigns against cannabis prohibition, said the proposal to reclassify the drug in the U.K. is “completely crazy,” adding that the Conservative commissioners are “promoting ideas which will increase crime, violence and child exploitation.”
“The idea of doing more of the same as the past 50 years, which has quite obviously dramatically failed, is ridiculous,” Reynolds said. “The only people who want this are ignorant politicians and the people who sell illegal drugs, I’m crystal clear about that.”
After the police and crime commissioners revealed the proposal to classify cannabis as a Class A drug, a spokesperson for the Home Office said that the potential dangers associated with cannabis do not warrant reclassifying the drug.
“There are currently no plans to reclassify cannabis, which is controlled as a Class B drug in the U.K. on the basis of clear medical and scientific evidence of its harms,” the spokesperson said.
However, media reports now indicate that Braverman is reviewing the evidence before making a final decision.