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British Parliament Committee Urges: END MARIJUANA ARRESTS
CONTACT: Bruce Mirken, MPP director of communications 202-462-5747 x113
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Britain moved a step closer to making marijuana possession a non-arrestable offense today as the Home Affairs Select Committee of Parliament endorsed a proposal to sharply reduce marijuana penalties. The idea was put forth last fall by U.K. Home Secretary David Blunkett and was endorsed in March by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, the government's scientific body on drug policy.
Today's committee report, the result of a 10-month-long investigation, marks a key step in the government's consideration of this major policy change.
Blunkett has proposed that marijuana be "downgraded" from Class B to Class C, the "least harmful" category of illegal drugs under British law. Class B includes drugs of "intermediate" danger, including barbiturates and amphetamines. Class C drugs include Valium and anabolic steroids. Such drugs remain illegal, but possession generally brings a warning or fine rather than arrest and jail.
In the United States, marijuana remains in Schedule I, the category reserved for substances such as heroin and LSD, which are deemed the most dangerous.
The report, available at www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200102/cmselect/cmhaff/318/31802.htm, urges a shift in anti-drug policy to focus on abuse and misuse rather than on occasional users who do little harm to themselves or society. Regarding marijuana, the document points out the damage done by excessively strict laws, arguing that "we do not believe there is anything to be gained by exaggerating its harmfulness. On the contrary, exaggeration undermines the credibility of messages that we wish to send regarding more harmful drugs."
The parliamentary group's conclusions echo those of the Advisory Council, which stated, "The high use of cannabis is not associated with major health problems for the individual or society." The council also noted that the addiction potential of marijuana is "well below nicotine and alcohol."
"The British government is taking a thoughtful, science-based approach to reconsidering its drug laws," commented Bruce Mirken, director of communications for the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project. "In this country, policymakers regularly commission expert reports and then ignore them when they don't like the findings. From the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse in 1972 to the 1999 Institute of Medicine review of the data on medical marijuana, experts have repeatedly challenged the assumptions underlying marijuana prohibition. The British are listening to their experts. Maybe someday the U.S. will do the same."
The Marijuana Policy
Project works to minimize the harm associated with marijuana -- both the consumption
of marijuana and the laws that are intended to prohibit such use. MPP believes
that the greatest harm associated with marijuana is imprisonment. To this end,
MPP focuses on removing criminal penalties for marijuana use, with a particular
emphasis on making marijuana medically available to seriously ill people who
have the approval of their doctors. For more information, please visit www.mpp.org.
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