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Reclassification: And the Criminal Justice Act (2003)

The Act makes the possession of cannabis a specific arrestable offence under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) so that possession of this drug will continue to be arrestable. Under PACE, an offence is automatically an arrestable offence if it carries a maximum penalty of at least 5 years' imprisonment. As a Class B drug, the maximum penalty for the possession of cannabis was 5 years imprisonment, but after reclassification to Class C in January 2004, the maximum penalty would have fallen to 2 years imprisonment.

The police need to continue to have the power of arrest to use in a small number of cases where the offender is blatantly flouting the law (eg smoking cannabis in the face of an officer). Under ACPO guidelines, the power will only be used in exceptional circumstances.

The Act also increases the maximum penalty for trafficking controlled drugs, which are Class C under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 from 5 years' to 14 years' imprisonment.

This holds the maximum penalty for trafficking cannabis at its current level of 14 years' imprisonment, following reclassification.

There are 10 to 20 cases each year of cannabis trafficking involving amounts of half a tonne or more, where sentences of significantly more than 5 years' imprisonment are imposed: the courts need to continue to be able to impose substantial sentences in these cases.

This change will also enable the UK to meet its obligations to comply with emerging EU measures to harmonise drug trafficking penalties, and to have maximum penalties of at least 10 years' imprisonment for serious drug trafficking.

The change does not cut across the reasoning behind reclassification: the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs advised that cannabis is harmful, but not as harmful as Class B drugs such as amphetamines. This will be reflected in its law enforcement as a Class C drug.

Other Class C drugs include benzodiazepines and anabolic steroids.

See www.cja2003.com for more details