Up in smoke: Number of cannabis dealers being jailed is at ten-year low


Last updated at 21:47 23 March 2008

The number of cannabis dealers being sent to jail is at a ten-year low.

Prosecutions have fallen almost a third, from 2,790 in 2003 to 1,994 in 2006 - the latest year for which figures are available.

The proportion of offenders given a prison sentence fell to 24 per cent, the lowest rate since 1996.

Cannabis was downgraded from a Class B drug to a Class C drug in 2003, meaning those caught with it for personal use are unlikely to be arrested.

The official figures - obtained by the Conservatives through Parliamentary questions - show that in 2003, prior to reclassification, 2,099 cannabis dealers were found guilty and 697 jailed.

But in 2006 only 1,158 were convicted and 279 jailed.

Shadow Home Secretary David Davis said: "Drugs wreck lives, destroy communities and are a major cause of crime.

"Not only is cannabis a major gateway to harder drugs but there is increasing evidence emerging showing the dehabilitative and demotivating effects it has on young people - especially in terms of mental illness.

"The Government is in denial about the harmful effects of cannabis. The decision to declassify cannabis has sent mixed messages.

"The decline in drugs offenders being jailed can only weaken efforts to deter its sale and use.

"We need a zero-tolerance approach to drugs, from our shores to our streets.

"That means establishing a dedicated border police force, reclassifying cannabis, prosecuting drug dealers, as well as rolling out abstinence-based rehabilitation and proper drug programmes in our prisons."

Gordon Brown is still weighing up whether to make cannabis a Class B drug again and ordered a review soon after becoming Prime Minister last summer.

Senior police officers, magistrates and medical experts have supported the move.

Experts say cannabis users increasingly risk serious mental health damage, particularly as highly potent "skunk" varieties become more popular.

The number of over-18s receiving treatment for cannabis misuse in England increased from 11,057 in 2004-05 to 16,685 in 2006-07.

A study by Unicef of 21 industrialised countries found that the UK is now third highest in terms of the proportion of 11-, 13-and 15-year-olds who admitted taking cannabis.

The figure stood at 35 per cent here, compared with 27 per cent in France, 18 per cent in Germany and 5 per cent in Sweden.

A fifth of robbery victims believe the offender was under the influence of drugs, according to the British Crime Survey.

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