Youth courts appeal for cannabis rethink
Judges and magistrates are so worried about the dangers of burgeoning cannabis use among young criminals that nearly every youth court in the country has urged the Government to reclassify it.
Tagged young offenders up by 27pc in a year Fifty out of the 51 youth courts in England and Wales have written to Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, asking her to tighten the laws regarding the drug.
Cannabis had been downgraded to a class C drug in 2004 by the then home secretary, David Blunkett, meaning dealing the drug or possessing it carried less severe penalties.
However, since then youth offending teams (YOTs) claim they have seen cannabis use soar among young offenders.
In a national survey, two thirds of the teams are reported to have found that use of the drug has risen by between a quarter and three quarters. In some areas nine out of 10 young offenders were reported to be using cannabis.
Meanwhile, research by Kings College in Sheffield found that 25 per cent of young offenders in the city had turned to crime to fund their habit.
Across the country, YOTs deal with around 10,000 under-17s a year who come before the courts.
Darren Johnson, the secretary of the Association of YOT Managers, said cannabis use was "out of control" in some areas.
John House, the chief superintendent of South Yorkshire Police, who commissioned the Kings College research, said: "The reclassification of cannabis was a decision taken based on a different drug.
"It wasn't taken bearing in mind the strength of new cannabis, or the potential damage to social fabric caused by open cannabis smoking in the street by those who don't perceive it as a serious crime."
Cannabis is the most popular drug in Britain, with 11 per cent of those aged 16 to 59 claiming to have used it in the past year.
Up to one in five young people now reports smoking it at least once a week.
The Government signalled a review of the classification earlier this year amid concerns over the long-term effects of the drug and the rise of far more potent strains.
The review may see cannabis reclassified as a class B drug.
In July a study published in The Lancet medical journal appeared to show that smoking cannabis increased the risk of developing a psychotic illness, such as schizophrenia, later in life, with the most frequent users more than twice as likely to become psychotic.
A Home Office spokesman said: "We have always said that cannabis is an illegal and harmful drug. The fact remains that the steady fall in cannabis use has been sustained through reclassification in 2004 across all age ranges.
"The recently published Information Centre survey confirms that cannabis use for young people aged 11-15 has fallen. We are currently reviewing the classification of cannabis and are consulting both the public and the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs."
• The number of people seeking help for cocaine addiction has risen 400 per cent in the past five years, according to the help group Cocaine Anonymous.
Meanwhile, the charity DrugScope found dealers were now offering an adulterated "economy version" of the drug at around (insert ridiculous figure) a gram, putting it in reach of young people and those on low incomes.