UK bishop supports easing law against cannabis

April 16, 2002

A senior Church of England bishop, John Oliver, has added his voice to a growing movement in Britain to relax the law against using cannabis. Oliver said the law against the use of cannabis had become unenforceable and police energies would be better directed to the fight against hard drugs.

Oliver is the bishop of Hereford, an area of northwest England that attracted worldwide publicity in March with pictures of a dead 21-year-old heroin addict, Rachel Whitear. With the permission of her family, health authorities released the pictures, including one of the corpse holding a syringe, in a bid to deter others from taking hard drugs.

Oliver called for more education to persuade cannabis users not to switch to harder drugs. He told ENI: 'It's not good to be on cannabis, which is not a harmless drug. It's pretty unpleasant.' But, he added, cannabis 'clearly isn't' always a gateway to hard drugs, since most cannabis users did not take other drugs. The 67-year-old bishop, who said he had never smoked cannabis, described himself as 'reluctantly in agreement' with the campaign to relax the law.

The Hereford diocesan synod voted in favor of reclassifying cannabis as a first step towards decriminalization. It is understood to be the first time an English diocesan synod has favored such action. The Church of England's ruling general synod last debated drugs in July 1998 and then passed a resolution that neither supported nor condemned the decriminalization of cannabis use, according to a church spokesman.

The Church of England's Board for Social Responsibility told a parliamentary select committee that possession of cannabis should cease to be illegal. It said that criminalization led to disrespect for the law among young people, that the law was enforced in a random manner, and that there was no general link between cannabis and hard drugs. But the board's policy looks certain to attract opposition from evangelicals within the general synod. Britain's 1 million-member Evangelical Alliance, which draws support from across Christian denominations, is opposed to changing the law against taking drugs.

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