§ Ann Winterton
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department (1) what assessment he has made of the prevalence of use of cannabis by 11 to 18-year-olds, and if he will make a statement;863W
(2) what recent representations he has received from residents of the London borough of Lambeth on the Metropolitan Police Service's response to persons found to be in possession of cannabis; and if he will make a statement;
(3) if he will make a statement on the introduction of legislation to re-classify cannabis; and what recent representations he has received on his proposal to re-classify cannabis;
(4) what recent representations he has received from (a) Drugscope and (b) Lifeline (Manchester) about drugs misuse issues with particular reference to cannabis; and what assessment he has made about the efficacy of advice provided on drugs misuse in reducing overall drugs misuse among young people and children;
(5) what assessment he has made of medical evidence on (a) the detrimental effects of fat-soluble tetrahydrocannabinol on the functioning of cell membranes in the human body, (b) the increased incidence of (i) depression, (ii) psychosis and (iii) schizophrenia and (c) reduced driving ability, in persons using cannabis;
(6) what research he has evaluated on cannabis being a gateway drug among 11 to 18-year-olds; and what assessment he has made of research on whether regular users of cannabis are more likely to proceed to use Class A drugs;
(7) what assessment he has made of the health implications of the increasing proportion of tetrahydrocannabinol in commonly used cannabis; whether this change will influence his policy on drug misuse; and if he will make a statement;
(8) what research he has evaluated on the effects on (a) law enforcement and (b) public health of the relaxation of drugs policy by the authorities in the Netherlands; and if he will make a statement. 
§ Mr. Bob Ainsworth
The advice of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (AMD) that cannabis should be reclassified to Class C under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has accepted, was based on a detailed study of the available scientific literature covering all relevant aspects of the issue, including epidemiology and risks to health. Although products with cannabis remains illegal and controlled—it is a harmful drug. Higher concentrations of the main psychoactive ingredient. tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), became available during the late 1980s and 1990s, there has generally been a very wide variation in the THC levels found in cannabis, and this continues to be the case and the Advisory Council Misuse of Drugs took this into consideration in the advice they gave.
The Government give close attention to developments on drugs laws and polices in other countries within the framework of the United Nations Conventions of 1961 and 1971. Government representatives regularly attend a variety of international fora at which information and ideas are exchanged with other Governments. The Government note the policy being followed in the Netherlands in respect of cannabis. So far as the United Kingdom is concerned, the proposal to reclassify 864W cannabis to Class C provides the best prospect for putting out a credible message to young people about drugs, based on a scientific assessment of the relative harm they cause, and for putting a clear focus on Class A drugs, the ones which do the most harm to individuals and to society.
The '2001–02 British Crime Survey'—the latest year for which results are available—estimated that 25 per cent. of 16 to 18-year-olds had taken cannabis in the last year. The 'Drug use, smoking and drinking among young people in England in 2001' survey estimated that 13 per cent. of school children aged between 11 and 15 had taken cannabis in the last year. Copies of both surveys can be found in the Library.
There have been no recent UK studies that have looked specifically at cannabis as a gateway drug among teenagers. However, some relevant analysis has been undertaken which examined wider progression from one group of drugs to another. It used the 1998–99 Youth Lifestyles Survey, which questioned 3,700 young people aged between 12 and 30 years. The analysis examined progression from a group of drugs, including cannabis, LSD, amphetamines, amylnitrate and magic mushrooms, to a group of highly dangerous drugs, including heroin, crack and methadone. When social and psychological factors, such as disturbed family background and disadvantaged location, were taken into account, little evidence was found for a gateway effect caused by use of the first group of drugs.
This analysis can be found in Home Office Research Study 253 entitled: 'The Road to Ruin? Sequences of Initiation into Drug Use and Offending by Young People in Britain'. Copies of this report can be found in the Library.
The report of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs on the classification of cannabis provides a detailed assessment of the medical evidence with regard to the possible effects of cannabis use on health. A summary of the findings is contained in Chapter 4. A copy of the Council's report, 'The classification of cannabis under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971', with bibliographical references, is in the Library.
An Order in Council is needed to change the classification of any controlled drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. Such an Order is subject to the draft affirmative resolution procedure. My right hon. Friend intends that a draft Order to amend the Act to reclassify cannabis will be debated in Parliament in good time for changes to the penalties for trafficking Class C drugs proposed in the Criminal Justice Bill being approved and taking effect.
My right hon. Friend and I regularly receive written representations from right hon. and hon. Members and members of the public about the Government's proposal to reclassify cannabis.
We have not received any recent representations from Drugscope or Lifeline (Manchester) about drugs misuse issues with particular reference to cannabis.
We have received a few letters from residents of Lambeth in the past year concerning cannabis issues generally. Issues have also been raised in discussion by constituency MPs for the area and its surroundings.