Miércoles 7 de Noviembre de 2007, Ip nº 215

Cannabis loses allure but cocaine use continues upward trend
Por Alan Travis

Cannabis use by young people has fallen significantly since its reclassification in 2004, according to the latest British Crime Survey figures published yesterday.

The Home Office figures showed that the proportion of 16- to 24-year-olds who admitted using cannabis in the previous 12 months dropped from 25% in 2003-2004, when the change in the law was introduced, to 21% in 2006-07. This represents a decline of about 150,000 users to about 1.3 million now.

The impact of police issuing a warning on the street and confiscating the cannabis of those found in possesion of the drug instead of taking them to the police station to caution them has also been reflected in a 54% rise in the number of seizures of cannabis to 117,297.

A total of 63,331 formal warnings for cannabis possession were issued in 2005, a rise of 61% compared with before the change in classification of the drug from class B to class C.

The spread of a "homegrown" cannabis industry was also confirmed in seizures by police and customs officers of 208,357 cannabis plants in 2005, 82% of them in groups of fewer than 50 plants. Recent claims that a higher potency "super-skunk" strain of herbal cannabis was dominating the market were also dealt a blow by the seizure figures. They showed that a total of 69 tonnes of cannabis was seized in 2005 and the bulk of it - 49 tonnes - was imported resin and only 20 tonnes herbal cannabis - among which was some "skunk" varieties. The figures showed that the number of individual seizures of herbal cannabis had grown sharply - up 76% since 2004 - also reflecting the increasing importance of the homegrown market.

Gordon Brown has ordered a fresh review of the legal status of cannabis after warnings of links between higher potency strains and mental illness but the latest figures suggest an acceleration in the downward trend of cannabis consumption since 1998, when 28% of 16- to 24-year-olds reported using the drug. The decline has also been reflected in a fall in the proportion of young people defined as "frequent drug users" - those that "have used any illicit drug more than once in the last month" - which has fallen from 11.6% four years ago to 8.3% currently.

Overall the figures on drug misuse showed the decline in cannabis consumption by young people mirrored in all age groups with 10% of those aged 16 to 59 admitting they had used an illegal drug in the last year: about 3.1 million people. This was down from 12% a decade ago and was the lowest level since the statistics were first published in 1996. It estimated that about 11 million people had used illicit drugs at some point in their lives.

The figures show that the use of cocaine powder has continued to rise with 2.6% of the adult population - about 835,000 people - saying they have used in the last year but ecstasy and heroin use has remained stable. The Home Office said there was a sharp rise in cocaine use between 1998 and 2000 from 1.3% to 2% of all adults - about 800,000 people - but since then the overall use of class A drugs had remained roughly stable.

For the first time the survey had also measured the use of ketamine - an illicit dance drug which is also a tranquilliser used by vets - in England and Wales and estimated that about 0.3%, or fewer than 100,000 of the adult population, had tried it in the last year.

The figures also showed that there had been a decline in the use of magic mushrooms since they were made a class A drug but an increase in the illicit use of glues.

Vernon Coaker, a Home Office minister, welcomed the long-term decline in drug use: "I am very pleased that seizures of drugs have risen by 50% while class A drug seizures have increased by almost a third.

"That means in 2005 enforcement agencies have stopped 3.8 tonnes of cocaine, almost two tonnes of heroin, close to three million doses of ecstasy and over a million doses of LSD from harming individuals," he said.

Martin Barnes of drug information charity DrugScope said the figures suggested that overall drug use among the general population had remained stable since last year, with an overall downward trend in the last 10 years. "This is clearly encouraging news but we cannot be complacent. The continued use of cocaine powder, particularly among young people, is of concern," he said.

Seized drugs
Quantities seized in England and Wales, 2005, kg

Cannabis resin 49,190
Herbal cannabis 20,420
Cocaine 3,765
Amphetamine 2,038
Heroin 1,864
Crack cocaine 49

Has used drugs in the past year
Estimated number, 16-59-year-olds, thousands

Cannabis 2,616
Cocaine powder 828
Ecstasy 567
Amphetamines 421
LSD etc 234
Crack cocaine 58
Heroin 41
Methadone 37


  26/10/2007. The Guardian.