The Laws Surrounding Cannabis Use
Many countries are now moving towards a relaxation of their cannabis laws which in some cases are so vague and confusing that Joe Public really doesn't know whether he's legally entitled to roll a joint or not.
In Western Europe (where it's estimated that at least a third of the adult population has used cannabis at some stage) Belgium , Italy , Spain , Luxembourg and Sweden have all legalised the drug to some degree.
In Germany cannabis was illegal until 1994 when the government decided that stopping people's personal use was "unconstitutional." Since then, some areas of Germany have tolerated it while others have actually decriminalised it.
In Italy , smoking a spliff will get you a verbal warning and in some cases passports or driving licences are confiscated. In Spain you could face a fine but the small scale growth and use of marijuana is widespread and largely tolerated.
The Irish police don't actively pursue cannabis users but they can face a fine if caught in possession. Denmark issues a police caution to anyone found in possession as do the Greek authorities - although in Greece you have to submit to counselling if caught. Austria allows personal use and France carries out very few prosecutions for possession of small quantities of cannabis.
There are countries where the penalties for possessing cannabis are extremely harsh. In Malaysia , 200 grams of cannabis attracts a mandatory death sentence. In 2001, Vietnam executed 55 people for possession and trafficking and in China all drug traffickers face execution.
The death penalty is also the punishment for anyone caught trafficking more than 8oz of cannabis in Singapore . But in places like Morocco and India traffickers can often bribe their way out of trouble (a fact strenuously denied by the authorities!)
Cannabis: A Class C Drug
In January 2004, cannabis was reclassified from a Class B to a Class C drug in the UK . This means that although it remains illegal to sell, possess or allow the use of cannabis in your own home, the police can deal with it by way of a discretionary caution. The law has not changed in relation to young people who can still be arrested if caught in possession. (It's all so confusing that even some police officers admit they're not quite sure what the law is now!)
Many experts on drug abuse say the new UK law is far too woolly - to many it seems to be saying that it's now OK to take cannabis for personal use but no-one seems quite sure. The Metropolitan Police, responsible for law enforcement in London , admitted to a "massive amount of muddle" over reclassification. Pro cannabis groups believe the new law is impossible to police effectively, particularly in larger cities.
The British Medical Association, a professional body representing doctors nationwide, has expressed concern that the public might take the reclassification as a sign that the drug is perfectly safe.