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Volume 472: debated on Monday 25 February 2008

The Government are tackling cannabis use through a comprehensive package of measures as part of our national drug strategy, including prevention, education, early intervention, enforcement and treatment.

The Government’s message on cannabis use to young people is consistent and clear: cannabis is harmful and illegal, and should not be taken.

The Minister will be aware that there is alarming evidence of links between cannabis use and mental health problems for young people, particularly schizophrenia and psychosis. The Government’s “Talk to Frank” website states:

“There’s also increasing evidence of a link between cannabis and mental health problems such as schizophrenia. If you’ve a history of mental health problems, depression or are experiencing paranoia, then taking this drug is not a good idea.”

Does the Minister accept that that could mislead young people into believing that, if they have no history of mental health problems, it is safe to take cannabis? Will he ensure that the advice is strengthened to make it clear?

I will look at it, but I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s point. He is right to point out that there is increasing concern throughout the House and the country about the link between stronger strains of cannabis and mental health. That is why my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has announced a review. The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, as the hon. Gentleman is aware, is looking into it and will make its recommendations in late April, which the Home Secretary will consider.

My hon. Friend ought to be aware that reclassification is part of the issue. We ought to reclassify cannabis. Not only has it got stronger, but the results of long-term cannabis use have been shown. Let us not continue to talk; let us take action and reclassify it as soon as possible.

My hon. Friend is right to express his views with such passion. We are all concerned about the increasing evidence of a link between cannabis and mental health issues. That is why we are statutorily required to consult the ACMD, which is what we are doing. We must wait for its advice, which we have asked it to give as quickly as possible. That advice will come at the end of April, and then my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will consider it.

Does the Minister accept that there is no evidence that increasing the classification to class B would reduce cannabis use, just as there was no evidence that reducing it to class C increased its use? Is it not crazy for him and his colleagues to purport to have evidence-based policy making if they are willing to reject the advice of the ACMD when it reports?

That is a better answer than I could probably make! In all seriousness, the point made by the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) demonstrates the need for the Government to have a statutory committee to consider the issues. The point that he makes has been made in public for the first time to the ACMD. That is a change that we brought about—different opinions have been put to the ACMD by scientific advisers, health professionals and all sorts of people, including his point about cannabis and the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle). The advisory council will judge the issues, come to a view and make a recommendation to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and she will consider it. That will be evidence-based policy.

Early this month, Dr. King, an adviser to the Home Office, told the advisory council that the use of home-grown cannabis in the UK has risen from 15 per cent. to 70 per cent. The Government have put most of their attack into preventing cannabis from coming into the UK, but will my hon. Friend tell me what he is going to do about the home-grown stuff, the use of which has so greatly increased?

My hon. Friend raises an important issue. Last year, the police undertook an enforcement campaign, Operation Keymer, which targeted so-called cannabis factories in residential areas. The drugs strategy that we are due to publish shortly will address that issue, saying that we need more of that type of enforcement activity. As well as issues about drugs and cannabis farms, we are concerned about the increasing evidence of a link between trafficked children and cannabis factories.