Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

Session 2002-2003

13 May 2003


Commenting upon publication of the Committee's Sixth Report 2002-03, The illegal drugs trade and drug culture in Northern Ireland:  interim report on cannabis, Michael Mates MP, Chairman of the Committee, said:

"We do not question the arguments for the reclassification of cannabis, in terms of its relative standing in the schedule of controlled drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.  However, it is essential that the Government recognises the message sent by the reclassification, not only to the individual user but also to the drug trafficker and to enforcement agencies nationally and internationally.

Cannabis remains overwhelmingly the most widely available controlled drug in Northern Ireland.  The demand for it is exploited by organised criminals and paramilitaries who use the profits from the trade to sustain their other criminal activities.  While we welcome the increase in the penalty for supply of Class C drugs, it is unlikely that this action alone will be a sufficient counterbalance to the opportunities for extending criminal activity which the reclassification may provide.

Northern Ireland is different from Great Britain, both in its choice of controlled drugs and in the problems associated with its drugs trade.  It has a relatively small population and at present it does not have a large scale of hard drug abuse. The Government must keep this in mind and monitor closely what happens in Northern Ireland following the reclassification of cannabis.  We call on the Government to reaffirm, clearly and publicly, that the supply of cannabis remains a high priority for law enforcement in Northern Ireland.  It must support the enforcement authorities fully in tackling this trade.

We have also received evidence of widespread confusion about the status of cannabis.  We have heard that cannabis is being smoked openly on the streets, and in pubs and clubs, in Northern Ireland because people believe it is now legal. The Government, and the Northern Ireland Executive, must intensify their efforts to communicate the fact that the use of cannabis remains illegal, and harmful."

Limited copies of the report will be available on request from reception at 7 Millbank at the time of publication.  Press copies will also be available from the Press Gallery, House of Commons. Copies will be available at the time of publication from the Stationery Office in Belfast (02890 238451). 

The Committee has decided not to hold a press conference. For interviews with Committee members please contact the office on 020 7219 2172.