Cannabis should not be semi-legal

A MOTHER who believes her son's mental health problems and subsequent suicide were triggered by smoking cannabis has criticised new police guidelines for dealing with users of the drug.

A MOTHER who believes her son's mental health problems and subsequent suicide were triggered by smoking cannabis has criticised new police guidelines for dealing with users of the drug.

Maureen Griffiths, whose son Shaun killed himself on the eve of his 17th birthday, said the move by the Government to downgrade cannabis "sent out the wrong message".

She spoke out as Home Secretary David Blunkett defended the new police guidelines, which will see most cannabis smokers let off with a verbal warning.

The Association of Chief Police Officers issued the rules because Mr Blunkett plans to downgrade cannabis from Class B to Class C on January 29.


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Mrs Griffiths, from Bury St Edmunds, said: "My concern is that it will give out the wrong message to people. My view is the Government are not taking into consideration the mental health damage smoking cannabis can do. That side of it is really overlooked."

She believes her son was left disturbed after smoking the drug, and that it triggered the mental illness that resulted in Shaun hanging himself at their home in Castle Hedingham 15 years ago.

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She added: "I think it should have stayed at Class C. Maybe this is the first step on the road towards legalising cannabis, which I think will be a drastic mistake.

"There is a link with mental health problems, it's a proven fact and this just makes me worry that others will suffer like our son did."

Once cannabis is downgraded, it will move into the "least harmful" category under the Misuse of Drugs Act - alongside anabolic steroids and some prescription anti-depressants.

Shadow home secretary Oliver Letwin said the proposals would cause confusion because they made cannabis "semi-legal".

But Mr Blunkett said the Government's policy on cannabis simply recognised what many police forces were already doing.

Asked if he thought the guidelines sent out the wrong message to young people, he said: "The only wrong message that is being put out is those proclaiming that we've been legalising cannabis, which we have not, and those that have said that it isn't a long-term dangerous drug, which it is.

"What we have said is that it is not the killer and not the danger to the community that drugs like heroin and crack cocaine are.'

Acpo's new guidance said that possession of cannabis would "ordinarily not be an arrestable offence'.

People could be arrested for smoking cannabis in public or smoking cannabis after being found with the drug repeatedly. Possessing the drug inside or near places where there are children. Using the drug in areas where it is causing a "local policing problem", meaning a "fear of public disorder'.

Mr Blunkett's decision to downgrade cannabis was designed to free police time to target Class A drugs such as heroin and crack.

Acpo drugs spokesman and Chief Constable of Norfolk Andy Hayman said: "Despite reclassification, it remains illegal to possess cannabis.

"In the majority of cases, officers will issue a warning and confiscate the drug.'

Chief executive of mental health charity Sane, Marjorie Wallace, said: "Justification for these news laws seems to be on the basis that cannabis is less harmful than other drugs.

"But for those prone to severe mental illness, particularly young people, using cannabis can provide the fatal trigger to lifelong illness and risk of suicide."

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