The curious incident of young people's reaction to the re-classification of cannabis - "Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?" "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time." "The dog did nothing in the night-time." "That was the curious incident," remarked Sherlock Holmes. From the story ‘Silver Blaze’, in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
After much debate, the ACMD recommended a re-classification of Cannabis from a Class B to a Class C drug, which was put into law in 2003. There was some speculation that this would lead to a relaxation in attitudes to cannabis, and a consequent rise in prevalence of use. The phrase 'sending the wrong signals' was used; ironically, in our view, because the re-classification was intended, at least in part, to correct the anomaly of classifying cannabis with more dangerous drugs.
We have been collecting information from young people in school about their drug and other behaviour for the last 30 years, and have seen the prevalence of experimentation of cannabis wax and wane and wax once more.
We were obviously very interested to see what was going to happen to figures after the re-classification. We have been contacted by several journalists looking for the predicted rise in young people's use. We have told them that we have seen no rise, but this 'good news' story has never found its way into a headline, which we regret.
There are a couple of other good news stories, in fact, about young people and cannabis in the same data sets:
* Experimentation has not grown in proportion with availability; therefore, young people are able to refuse unwelcome offers of cannabis
* Young people's perceptions of the dangers of cannabis have firmed up over recent years; until recently, older pupils were inclined to be more sanguine about any risks, but now there is a greater awareness of the dangers
We are inclined to conclude a number of things:
* That the precise status of cannabis in the classification is not very important when young people are making decisions about drugs
* That good quality information about cannabis can deter experimentation
* That good news about young people is hard to get into the press
* That the re-opening of this debate serves no useful purpose
If there is a drug about which the law sends the wrong signals to young people, it is undoubtedly alcohol, of which the mental health dangers have been plain since antiquity.