Cannabis laws need to be changed, says Release charity

Cannabis plants growing inside a special tent

Growing small amounts of cannabis should be decriminalised, according to the charity Release.

It campaigns for reform of the drug laws and says arresting people who grow fewer than 12 plants, for personal use, is a waste of police time and effort.

The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) admits that tackling small growers is not a priority.

Medical experts say it can cause psychological problems and smoking it can lead to diseases like lung cancer.

Release, though, wants growing cannabis to be treated like breaking the speed limit or parking on double yellow lines.

'Getting by'

That would make it punishable with a fine but no criminal record.

Lee, who wouldn't give his surname, says he has seven cannabis plants in a specially-designed growing tent in his spare bedroom.

Full of powerful lights, water trays, extractor fans and with an overpowering smell of strong cannabis Lee freely admits to breaking the law.

"It's a way to make ends meet," he admits.

"I've worked since I was 16, paid my taxes and [now] is the first time I've been unemployed in 15 years.

"It's just a way of making money because of the cost of fuel, food and living.

"It's just a way of getting by."

Release doesn't believe selling cannabis for money should be decriminalised.

But it does want small-scale growing for personal use or passing the drug on to friends for free to be made a civil offence.

Dangerous drug

Niamh Eastwood, executive director of the charity, says: "We are criminalising thousands of people every year and that has to end.

"Small-scale growing of cannabis for personal use or social supply (passing onto friends for free) means that people are not part of the black market which is driven by organised crime and violence.

"Secondly it reduces the risk of young people being exposed to harder drugs.

"Thirdly, arresting people who do it is a waste of police time, effort and money."

Medical experts though, like Dr Owen Bowden-Jones from the Royal College of Psychiatrists, say cannabis is a dangerous drug and can cause severe psychological problems.

"It doesn't matter if people are growing one or 1,000 [plants]," he says.

"The issue here is the strength of the cannabis.

"It's the strength of the cannabis that determines the risk and the risks include anxiety, paranoia, hearing voices and of course the health risks of smoking, which include emphysema and lung cancer."