20th November 2001

Reducing Cannabis to a Category C Drug

Q2 Alison Halford:

What discussions has the First Minister had with the UK Government and the other devolved bodies over the decision to reduce cannabis to a category C drug? (OAQ14010)

The First Minister (Rhodri Morgan):

None. This issue is the responsibility of the Secretary of State for the Home Department , and is not devolved to the Assembly. I have not discussed it with the Home Secretary, nor has he discussed it with me, and I have not had discussions of this kind with my counterparts in Scotland and Northern Ireland. There is a statutory requirement to consult with the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs before making any changes in drug classifications, and there is Welsh representation on that advisory committee.

Alison Halford:

Do you agree that this move by the Home Secretary is welcome on several fronts? In 1998, 130,000 people were arrested for drugs related offences, 70 per cent of whom were in possession of small amounts of cannabis. Thus in one year 65,000 people achieved a criminal record that will reduce their chances of securing meaningful employment. Will the First Minister welcome the Home Secretary’s decision to remove this unfair burden from the employable population in Wales?

The First Minister:

I am grateful for your comments. I have no view on this issue. However, I believe that your interpretation is correct, namely that there is no power of arrest for possession of a class C drug, although there is power of arrest for supply and trafficking. Therefore, the Home Secretary has not decriminalised, and has certainly not legalised, cannabis, but he has lifted a huge burden from the police in terms of the time that may be wasted on these small possession charges. These charges will no longer be operated—if I understand police legal operations correctly—if cannabis is reclassified as a class C drug. I think that the Home Secretary also made a reference to using cannabis for medicinal purposes, which I welcome. It should be available for those who find it a comfort when experiencing extreme pain due to long-standing degenerative conditions. There are many people who have such conditions who find that cannabis has a beneficial pain-relieving effect not seen with any other drug.

2:10 p.m.

Jocelyn Davies:

Do you agree that reclassifying cannabis does nothing to break the link between drug pushers and buyers? Will you make representations to the UK Government to ask it to explore the possibility of licensed premises?

The First Minister:

I have no views on that because I do not have expertise in this matter; nor is the Assembly obliged to take a position on this. However, if you want to make representations to me that we should take a view, those views could be expressed via the Welsh representative on the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.

David Davies:

The Government appears to be rushing headlong into the legalisation of cannabis without a full debate on its possible dangers. Is that what New Labour meant when it gave its commitment to joint working?

The First Minister:

That was not bad for early on a Tuesday afternoon, David. However, you know that there were considerable differences in your party a year ago when Ann Widdecombe said that she wanted to have a totally drug-free Tory party. She then discovered that that would have removed half the front bench, who promptly admitted to having smoked or inhaled cannabis while they were in university, public school or wherever. No party should claim a monopoly on the moral high ground on such issues; this has more to do with whether police time should be wasted on arresting people for the possession of small amounts of cannabis for personal use rather than being used to deal with the supply and trafficking of drugs. I will leave it at that.

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