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Parliament Votes To Officially Downgrade Cannabis -- Simple Possession No Longer An Arrestable Offense In Most Cases -- 'Not About Legalisation, It's About Having To Have A Mature Discussion About Drugs'
United Kingdom Drug Policy Reform
UK Drug Policy Commission Suggests Harm Reduction Measures
A report released by the UK Drug Policy Commission, released on July 30, 2009 and discussed here by the British Press Association, found in their survey of law enforcement officers that "[n]ine out of 10 of those questioned said it was 'unlikely' UK drugs markets would be eradicated in the near future." The study did not limit itself to law enforcement but also addressed drug markets and drug dealers themselves. For example, the Commission found that "drug dealers were often able to avoid having their operations shut down by police" and were "quick to adapt" when avoidance was not possible.
But the Commission did not limit itself to simple observations. Instead, it used its findings to make recommendations regarding how and where law enforcement should distribute its resources. As the Press Association states, "the authors suggested targeting law enforcement efforts at reducing the harm caused by illegal drugs." The study suggested such practices as "moving drug dealers from residential neighbourhoods to different areas where they would cause less harm" and "measuring success" based on something other than "arrests and seizures," which the report characterized as having "limited value." Indeed, the Commission suggested that "[e]ven successful police operations can sometimes have negative consequences if, for example, they create a turf war between rival gangs." The Commission seems to have discovered what drug policy reformers have known for over a decade.
Alan Campbell, minister for UK governing body Home Office, told the Press Association that "Tough enforcement is a fundamental part of our drug strategy, and the police continue to make real progress in tackling the supply of illegal drugs and in reducing the harm they cause. As the report states, harm reduction underpins every element of our approach to tackling this complex issue." However, a July 31 Bolton News article claims that, despite the think tank's recommendations, UK police plan to stick with their "zero tolerance" policies ("Police Vow to Continue Zero Tolerance in Drug Crime Fight"). The Bolton article thus raises questions regarding the extent to which police will take the study's findings into account and, most pecularliarly, leads informed readers to wonder if law enforcement agencies even know what "harm reduction" means.
Sussex Police to Test All Drug-Related Crime Arrestees
In a particularly eggregious move, England's Sussex Police Authority has decided to subject anyone arrested on a drug-related crime - which could be anything from theft to disruptive behavior - to a drug test, according to a July 28, 2009 article printed in The Argus ("Police to Drug-Test Sussex Suspects on Arrest"). Authorities frame the initiative as a harm reduction measure designed to "get addicts out of crime and into treatment." However, the drug testing requirement applies not just to those convicted of wrongdoing but to any "[p]eople arrested on suspicion of drug-related crimes." As the article states, "Even if they are not formally charged with any crime, anyone who tested positive for drugs would have to attend a meeting with a drugs worker - and could be prosecuted if they do not.
Police claim that the "proactive" measure will help reduce crime, citing anecdotal evidence that "most car crime, burglary, and theft is carried out by drug addicts motivated to steal to fund their habit," as well as prevent overdose, though the article gives little indication as to how drug testing arrestees might accomplish the second goal.
Although the idea might drive down crime rates, it violates the privacy of individuals who may or may not have committed any sort of crime. Far from being a harm reduction measure, Sussex's newly announced drug testing program will likely only widen the net to ensnare more citizens into England's criminal justice system.
Britain Installs Methadone Vending Machines in Prisons
As the Telegraph reported on July 16, 2009 ("Government Spends £4m on Methadone Vending Machines for Prisons"), Britain has established a program "install[ing] 'vending machines' in prisons to supply drug-addicted offenders with methadone." According to the piece, "The machines allow prisoners to receive a personalized dose of methadone automatically by giving a fingerprint or iris scan." The article states that "Phil Hope, a justice minister, told MPs that vending machines have so far been installed in 57 prisons." However, "the plan is to [eventually] have the machines in 70 of the 140 prisons in England and Wales."
Not all British officials are happy with the program (or programme, as it were). Dominic Grieve, "the shadow justice secretary," told the Telegraph that "The public will be shocked that Ministers are spending more on vending machines than the entire budget for abstinence based treatments." He continued, saying that Britain "need[s] to get prisoners off all drug addiction - not substitute one dependency for another" and characterizing the "Government's approach of trying to 'manage' addiction" as "an admission of failure." However, an unnamed "spokesman for the Department of Health" contended that "Methadone dispensers are a safe and secure method for providing a prescribed treatment."
The Drug War Chronicle's July 24, 2009 edition includes an extensive feature on this issue; click here to read it.
UK Advocacy Group Launches "Nice People Take Drugs" Bus Campaign
As the Drug War Chronicle reported in its June 5, 2009 edition ("Nice People Take Drugs, Says British Advocacy Group"), "In a bid to jump-start a campaign to move Britain toward more sensible drug policies, the drug reform advocacy group Release is posting advertisements saying 'Nice People Take Drugs' on the sides of passenger buses." Although the group seeks reform at the governmental level, it explains the campaign by stating that "Politicians are afraid to take on a subject that governments have totally failed to bring under control [...]. Breaking the taboo on drugs is the first step to reducing the harm they can cause. We must shift the perception that drug users are 'bad' and that all drug use is 'evil.'" They add that "Over one third of the adult population of England and Wales have used illegal drugs. By far the greatest risk to the majority of these people is criminalization and stigmatization." The bus campaign aims to break down the aforementioned taboos, stigmas, and misconceptions about drug use and drug users. According to the group, the advocacy effort "will advance that effort by beginning to counter the decades of propaganda that caricature and demonize drug users."
To find out more about Release's advocacy campaign, check out the Chronicle piece linked above as well as Release's web site for the campaign.
British Study Says Drug Legalization Could Save $20 Billion Per Year
Britain's Transform Drug Policy Foundation released a report, entitled A Comparison of the Cost-effectiveness of Prohibition and Regulation, on April 7, 2009 that posited savings of up to $20 billion annually under a legal, regulated drug control system. As the April 10 edition of the Drug War Chronicle explains ("Britain Could Save $20 Billion a Year by Legalizing Drugs, Study Finds"), "Transform postulated four different legalization scenarios based on drug use levels declining by half, staying the same, increasing by half, and doubling. Even under the worst case scenario, with drug use doubling under legalization, Britain could still see annual savings of $6.7 billion. Under the best case scenario, the savings would approach $20 billion annually." As the study states, "The conclusion is that regulating the drugs market is a dramatically more cost-effective policy than prohibition and that moving from prohibition to a regulated drugs market in England and Wales would provide a new saving to taxpayers, victims of crime, communities, the criminal justice system, and drug users."
Transform hosts the study online in PDF form.
Cannabis Reclassified in UK
Cannabis use figures have decreased considerably, yet the UK government will return to treating cannabis use in a more harsh manner. According to the North West Evening Mail January 27, 2009 article, ("Cannabis Reclassified As Class B Drug") "The government has reclassified cannabis, the UK's most commonly used drug, from Class C up to Class B. Cannabis was downgraded to Class C in 2004 because ministers wanted to free up police time and allow officers to concentrate on tackling harder drugs. In switching it back to Class B, the government has gone against its own expert drug advice body experts – the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs – which recommended keeping cannabis at Class C."
The article notes, "The government's decision has been taken because skunk, a much stronger version of the drug, now accounts for 80 per cent of the cannabis available on the streets, compared to just 30 per cent seven years ago. The government says it will now raise its efforts to clamp down on cannabis dealers and users, shut down cannabis farms and arrest the organised criminals who run them. A key part of that plan is the decision to raise the maximum penalty for possessing cannabis from two years in prison to five years. But,as part of the same plan, the government has invited police officers to issue on-the-spot fines to first-time cannabis offenders."
Poll Finds Britons' Support for Liberalized Drug Policies Waning
A poll conducted by The Observer and published in UK's Guardian paper on November 16, 2008 ("The Observer Drugs Poll 2008") found that British citizens' opinions about and attitudes toward drugs and drug use were taking a conservative turn. As the article states, "The poll suggests that the public has generally adopted a tougher stance on drugs law since The Observer last conducted the survey in 2002." Then, "30 per cent of adults believed that UK drug laws were not liberal enough. Now, however, "this proportion has plummeted to 18 per cent." Additionally, while 78 per cent of people "who do support a change in the law [...] believe that cannabis should be legalised or decriminalised," the poll found that "[v]ery few people believe that harder drugs should be authorised in any way." However, the poll's finding that "16-24-year-olds are the most likely to think that there is room for UK law to be more tolerant" should give reformers some hope for the future. Moreover, the Guardian reports that "it does not follow that the older a person is, the less supportive they are of a liberalisation of drugs law; in fact, people aged over 65 are as likely as 25-34-year-olds to say that UK drug laws are not liberal enough." Interested readers should check out the poll for themselves, as it provides a plethora of thorough - if generally disheartening - information regarding British public opinion on illicit substances.
Importantly, the poll did not simply inform the public of their peers' feelings about drugs; it also, according to the Drug War Chronicle's November 21 piece ("British Public Opinion Headed in Wrong Direction on Drug Policy, Poll Finds"), influenced British law. The Chronicle reports that "Home Secretary Jacqui Smith told the newspapers hardening public attitudes were driven in part by concerns about stronger strains of cannabis," against which British tabloids and its Labor government "have been [waging] a sometimes hysterical campaign." Smith continued, "This [more potent cannabis] is a very important determinant of our decision to reclassify [cannabis from a Class C to a Class B drug]. This is a different drug even to that which was classified from B down to C [in 2003]." Offering a counterpoint (and a dose of sanity), Martin Smith, who directs Drugscope, "told newspapers [that] the media and the government had falsely portrayed the drug problem as worse than it really was" - a strategy that is apparently working out quite well for the UK's drug warriors and likely having the opposite effect on their constituents.
More leaders are beginning to speak out about the failures and harms of the drug war. Former director of the UK Anti-Drug Coordination Unit in the Cabinet Office, with the job of coordinating government policy across departments and supporting the drugs Tsar, declares that legalisation would be less harmful than the current strategies. According to the Guardian August 13, 2008 article,("Ex-Drugs Policy Director Calls For Legalisation") "Julian Critchley, the former director of the Cabinet Office's anti-drugs unit, also said that his views were shared by the 'overwhelming majority' of professionals in the field, including police officers, health workers and members of the government. He also claimed that New Labour's policy on drugs was based on what was thought would play well with the Daily Mail readership, regardless of evidence of what worked. Downing Street policy advisers were said to have suggested stunts such as sending boats down the Thames to catch smugglers to coincide with policy announcements."
The article states, "In a contribution to the debate on the 'war on drugs' on a BBC website, Critchley spelled out his reasons for now supporting legalisation and claimed the government's position is hypocritical. Yesterday Critchley, who is now a teacher, confirmed that the blog posting accurately conveyed his views. 'I joined the unit more or less agnostic on drugs policy, being personally opposed to drug use, but open-minded about the best way to deal with the problem,' he wrote on the blog. 'I was certainly not inclined to decriminalise. However, during my time in the unit, as I saw more and more evidence of 'what works', to quote New Labour's mantra of the time, it became apparent to me that...enforcement and supply-side interventions were largely pointless. They have no significant, lasting impact on the availability, affordability or use of drugs."
The article adds, "He said that his views were widely held in the government but rarely expressed in public. 'I think what was truly depressing about my time in UKADCU was that the overwhelming majority of professionals I met, including those from the police, the health service, the government and voluntary sectors held the same view: the illegality of drugs causes far more problems for society and the individual than it solves. Yet publicly, all those intelligent, knowledgeable people were forced to repeat the nonsensical mantra that the government would be 'tough on drugs', even though they all knew the government's policy was actually causing harm."
Scotland's Futures Forum, a nonpartisan thinktank set up by Parliament, has published a report calling for radical changes in drug policies including heroin maintenance, sanitary consumption facilities, and cannabis regulation/taxation.
The BBC reported on June 9, 2008 "Forum sets out radical drugs plan") that " Recommendations include the setting up of "consumption rooms" where addicts would be able to take drugs safely, and for heroin to be prescribed to users. The report also suggested the taxation of cannabis to enable it to be more tightly regulated. The Scotland's Futures Forum was asked to look at ways of tackling addiction. The think tank was established by the parliament and was tasked with looking at the challenges facing Scotland, and seeking ways to meet those challenges. In this latest report it asked how the damage caused by alcohol and drugs in Scotland could be halved by 2025."
According to the BBC, " The forum believes cannabis should be taxed and highly regulated to help reduce availability and harm. A Scottish Government spokesman ruled out any imminent establishment of drug consumption rooms. 'There are complex legal and ethical issues around consumption rooms that cannot be easily resolved,' he said. Approaches to heroin prescribing are currently being piloted in England, the spokesman added. He said Scotland would 'wait and see' what lessons can be learned from those."
The BBC noted that "Lib Dem justice spokeswoman Margaret Smith said: 'Drugs misuse is a global problem and if other countries have developed new and radical solutions, then it is sensible to consider them for use in Scotland.' Former health minister Susan Deacon, who is now professor of social change at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh, said it was important to be 'open-minded' about the possible solutions to the drugs problem. Canadian Senator Larry Campbell, who was behind the setting up of injection sites in Vancouver in 2003, said addiction should be treated as an illness. He said: 'We have 600 injections a day on average, we have had over 1,000 overdoses in the clinic, and we have never had one person die. 'If they had been injecting in an alley or in a room by themselves, we would have had a number of people dead. 'Secondly we have seen our HIV and hepatitis rates stabilise because they are not using dirty needles.'"
A copy of the report is available by clicking here.
The UK's Labour government of Prime Minister Gordon Brown is still pushing for recriminalization of marijuana in spite of the recommendation of his own drug advisory council. The government's move may on the other hand not be fully implemented by the nation's police as the UK's Association of Chief Police Officers has declared its support for the current "confiscate and warn" approach.
First, the Evening Standard on April 28, 2008 ("Brown Set to Regrade Cannabis As Class B Despite Experts' Advice") reported that "Gordon Brown has decided to throw out the recommendation by a high-powered group of government advisers who say it should stay a "soft" drug. The Prime Minister will instead take a hard line, sending a message that drugs are dangerous to young people's health and heavily linked to serious crime. His stance was confirmed on the day that the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs was handing in an official report that is understood to recommend that cannabis should remain in the lowest category of illegal drugs, Class C. The advisory council is the most senior authority on drugs policy and was asked by Mr Brown to review the law amid concerns over stronger forms of cannabis such as skunk that are linked to mental illness in long-term abusers."
According to the Standard, "With 23 experts in drugs and their treatment, the advisory council has never before been ignored by the Government."
The Standard noted that "At present, most adults found carrying cannabis are unlikely even to be arrested. Young people are most likely to be arrested and reprimanded. That may now change, however. As a Class B rather than a Class C drug, the maximum penalty for possessing cannabis will rise from two to five years. In both cases the maximum penalty for supply is 14 years. Cannabis was downgraded from a Class B drug to Class C in January 2004, with the aim of freeing police time to tackle harder drugs. The move came after former home secretary David Blunkett became convinced that it was far less of a threat than heroin and crack cocaine."
The Guardian reported on May 1, 2008 ("Police Reject Tougher Action on Cannabis") that "Police will not adopt a tougher approach to cases of simple possession of cannabis when ministers upgrade the legal status of the drug to class B, the Guardian can disclose. The Association of Chief Police Officers ( Acpo ) confirmed last night that the current policy of "confiscate and warn" would continue, despite Gordon Brown's determination to reclassify the drug in an attempt to "send a tough message" to young people about its use. Chief constables are debating whether or not fixed penalty fines should be available alongside cannabis warnings. But the basic approach of saving police time by not making an arrest and taking the offender to the police station to be charged, introduced four years ago, will remain."
According to the Guardian, "Campaigners for drug law reform last night questioned the relevance of the drug classification system, which dates back to 1971, and its ability to send a message. Roger Howard, chief executive of the UK Drug Policy Commission, and a former government drugs adviser, said: 'There will be no new powers or resources for policing if cannabis is made class B, and cannabis warnings can still be issued instead of arrest.' He said this underlined the muddle at the heart of government over the purpose of a drug classification system which was unlikely ever to be able to 'send a message to young people'. Since cannabis had moved from class B to class C, the number of schoolchildren who think it is fine to try cannabis had halved, he said."
The Guardian noted that "It is expected that Acpo guidance to police officers will use different language from existing guidelines to stress the discretion that is available to constables to take more robust action in cases involving repeat offenders or aggravating factors such as disorder or evidence of organised crime. An Acpo spokesman last night: "The key will be the discretion for officers to strike the right balance. We do not want to criminalise young people who are experimenting." However, he stressed that cases involving "aggravating factors" were more likely to see an arrest and prosecution."
The newly-elected mayor of London, Conservative politician and celebrity Boris Johnson, has expressed his support for medicalization of marijuana.
The Daily Telegraph reported on April 25, 2008 ("Boris Johnson Calls for Cannabis Legalisation") that "Boris Johnson has become one of the first senior Conservative Party politicians to call for the legalisation of cannabis for medicinal use. In an interview for Telegraph TV, the candidate for London mayor responded to a question from a reader about his personal views on the use of marijuana by sufferers of chronic conditions such as arthritis."
The Telegraph noted that "Mr Johnson said: "I have thought about this for a little bit, but I haven't looked at all the evidence and talked to the police about it in a way I would before giving more than an extempore answer. "However, I do think there is a case when cannabis is being used to alleviate severe and chronic pain that the law should be flexible.""
Young people would not likely be deterred from trying marijuana if the penalties for possession were increased, researchers in England say.
The Independent on Sunday reported on Jan. 6, 2008 ("Reclassifying Cannabis Would Make No Difference to Young") that "Reclassifying cannabis would be pointless and therefore unlikely to make any difference to young users of the drug, according to a new report by some of the country's top criminal policy experts. Cannabis has now become such an important part of youth culture that a new generation of users are supplying each other with the drug, buying and sharing it with friends and relatives. A team of researchers from the Institute for Criminal Policy Research ( ICPR ) led by Professor Mike Hough, a senior adviser to the Home Office, has concluded that the 'social supply' of cannabis has almost entirely cut out traditional drug dealers and therefore needs a new approach. Their findings reveal that 90 per cent of young users can get hold of cannabis in under a day - with the majority able to get it within an hour."
According to the Independent, "Researchers conclude that 'the findings from this and other studies show that cannabis use is significantly embedded in the social world of many young people. It is unlikely a marginal change in the drug's legal status will have an impact.'"
The report is available from the ICPR website at King's College London.
Plans by the Gordon Brown government to cut funding for drug treatment programs have been leaked to the press. The Sunday Telegraph reported on July 29, 2007 ("Gordon Brown Cuts UKP50m From Drugs Work") that "Plans to slash total funding by more than 12 per cent, outlined in an email leaked to The Sunday Telegraph, come less than a fortnight after Gordon Brown tried to show off his anti-drug credentials by signalling his desire to reclassify cannabis from Class C to the more serious Class B. Last night, the Conservatives accused the Prime Minister of hypocrisy. The proposed cuts, phased over the next three years, would hit the "Pooled Treatment Budget" ( PTB ), the Government's main funding stream for drug treatment, which for this year is UKP398 million."
According to the Telegraph, "Alison Keating, the acting regional manager for the Government's National Treatment Agency in the South East, disclosed the scale of the proposed cuts in an email sent to colleagues across the country. Admitting that there have been 'some understandable concerns' about future levels of funding, she adds: 'Initial indications have been that there will be a UKP50 million cut over the three years.' The period involved is 2008 to 2011, the years covered by the Comprehensive Spending Review of government funding to be announced in the autumn by Alistair Darling, the Chancellor. The PTB receives its funding from the Home Office and the Department of Health. Any cuts will awaken fears that overall expenditure on health and crime will suffer in what is already expected to be a tough public spending round."
The Telegraph noted that "Chris Grayling, the shadow work and pensions secretary, said last night: 'When he was chancellor, Gordon Brown always used to hide the bad news in the small print. Now he's Prime Minister, we're finding the same thing. He's been making high profile announcements, like his war on cannabis, but the reality is very different. This reeks of hypocrisy.' On its Tackling Drugs, Changing Lives website, the Home Office trumpets successive increases in PTB funding. It boasts: 'Drug treatment continues to be a major priority.' Martin Barnes, the chief executive of the charity DrugScope, said: 'It is extremely concerning that the expectation among officials is of cuts in funding. The Prime Minister has spoken of the need to improve drug treatment, but this is difficult to reconcile with behind-the-scenes discussion of cuts being on the table.'"
Update 7/21/07: According to the Times on July 21, 2007 ("Harmon Joins In The Cabinet Confessions: I Smoked Pot"), "Harriet Harman yesterday became the ninth Cabinet minister to admit to having smoked cannabis. On Thursday Ms Harman, the Labour deputy leader, had refused to comment, but after eight members of the Cabinet said that they had tried the drug when young, she owned up as well." The Times noted that "Ms Smith is in charge of a review of the decision in 2004 to downgrade cannabis from a Class B to a Class C drug." Further, the Times reported that "The tally of ministerial admissions reached ten later when Baroness Ashton of Upholland, the Leader of the Lords, said that she had taken cannabis while at university."
Youthful indiscretions are making trouble for Gordon Brown's new government. Following announcement of the newly-appointed Prime Minister's decision to consider recriminalizing marijuana, several members of his cabinet have come out of the closet as former marijuana users. The Guardian reported on July 20, 2007 ("Seven Cabinet Members Admit Smoking Cannabis In Youth") that "Seven cabinet members, including Jacqui Smith the home secretary, admitted yesterday they had broken the law by smoking cannabis. The admissions came before a government statement next week that will see ministers propose the drug's classification is raised from class C to the more serious status of class B. Possession of a class C drug is largely a non-arrestable offence. It also emerged that two members of Ms Smith's Home Office frontbench team, Vernon Coaker and Tony McNulty, smoked cannabis in their youth. The prime minister's spokesman insisted that Gordon Brown regarded it as a personal matter and said he did not send out questionnaires asking cabinet colleagues whether they had taken drugs. He did not ask Ms Smith about her past when he appointed her as home secretary although she will have been subject to positive vetting by the security services."
According to the Guardian, "Other cabinet ministers who admitted to smoking cannabis, mainly as students, were the chancellor, Alistair Darling, and the transport secretary, Ruth Kelly. Andy Burnham, chief secretary to the Treasury, also admitted he had smoked cannabis once or twice at university. John Hutton, the business enterprise and regulatory reform secretary said he had smoked cannabis many years ago. Yvette Cooper, the housing minister, and the communities secretary, Hazel Blears, have admitted taking the drug in the past. Mr McNulty told BBC News 24: 'At university I encountered it, I smoked it once or twice, and I don't think many people who were at university at the time didn't at least encounter it.' The Miliband brothers, David and Ed, said they had not taken drugs, possibly because they were too busy writing Fabian tracts. Alan Johnson, the health secretary admitted he did sex and rock and roll, but not drugs. James Purnell, the culture secretary, refused to answer. Other ministers yesterday insisting they have neither smoked or inhaled include Peter Hain, Ed Balls, Geoff Hoon, Douglas Alexander and Jack Straw. As home secretary Mr Straw took one of his children to a police station when he admitted he had offered to help obtain cannabis for a third party."
The Guardian noted that "David Cameron, the Conservative leader, who has repeatedly refused to say whether he took drugs before he became a public figure, again refused to follow the cabinet's example and admit he had taken cannabis. There have been persistent rumours that he took more serious drugs in his youth. The Conservatives refused to make any political capital out of the revelations, partly due to Mr Cameron's position and partly because many members of the shadow cabinet have admitted they used cannabis. Ms Smith started a day of personal admissions before 8am yesterday when she talked on breakfast television about smoking cannabis while at Oxford University in the 1980s. 'I did break the law ... I was wrong ... drugs are wrong,' she said. The question had been predicted within government, and Ms Smith thought it best to open as soon as it was asked in a round of TV interviews designed to trail the government's crime reduction strategy. One of her predecessors, Charles Clarke, has admitted smoking cannabis and John Reid, his successor, is a recovered alcoholic."
Newly-Appointed Prime Minister Gordon Brown is moving to change the UK's cannabis laws, increasing the penalties. The Independent reported on July 19, 2007 ("Brown Plans To Abandon Softer Laws On Cannabis") that " Laws on cannabis are to be toughened by Gordon Brown amid claims that stronger strains of the drug were causing an increase in mental illness. In a further break with the Blair years, the new Prime Minister paved the way to reversing the controversial decision to make possession of a cannabis a largely non-arrestable offence. The drug was downgraded from a class B to class C substance three years ago to enable police to focus their attention on more damaging class A drugs such as heroin and cocaine. Mr Brown told MPs that the legal status of cannabis would be re-examined by Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, and Whitehall sources later confirmed that the review was almost certain to result in its reclassification as a class B drug."
According to the Independent, "Ms Smith will also next week set out a new strategy for combating drugs use, including improving treatment and education. Cannabis was downgraded in January 2004 by David Blunkett, then the home secretary, who argued that the switch would make drug laws more credible. Someone caught with a class C substance can in theory be jailed, but in practice they are likely to be let off with a verbal warning. Possession of class B drugs, which include amphetamines and barbiturates, can result in a maximum prison sentence of five years. The legal situation was reviewed only last year by Charles Clarke, then the Home Secretary, who concluded that cannabis should remain in class C alongside anabolic steroids and some anti-depressants. But Martin Barnes, the chief executive of DrugScope, said the 'fairly hysterical coverage in some sections of the media' was a factor in yesterday's announcement. He said: 'Repeated movements on classification will only serve to further confuse young people, and increase the political point-scoring, at a time when cannabis use is falling among young people and adults alike.' A spokesman for Transform Drug Policy Foundation said: 'This announcement is all about political posturing and has nothing to do with science. It follows in the wake of a series of all-too-familiar cannabis health panics, which have been hyped up by certain newspapers, and more recently by the Tory party.'"
The Independent noted that "Mr Blunkett said he was 'quite relaxed' about another review of his decision to downgrade the drug. But he added: 'It is worth reflecting that cannabis use among young people has fallen.'
The Independent also noted that "The Prime Minister was thrown on the defensive over the controversial scheme to release prisoners 18 days early to ease the jail overcrowding crisis. David Cameron, the Tory leader, said some had been released early against the advice of prison and probation staff while others had gone on to commit violent offences. Mr Brown told MPs he regretted any offences committed by prisoners freed early and agreed to investigate the claim that advice had been overruled."
The UK Drug Policy Commission released its report An Analysis of UK Drug Policy: A Monograph Prepared for the UK Drug Policy Commission" in April 2007. According to The Observer on April 15, 2007 ("Britain's Fight Against Drugs 'A Total Failure'"), "The report will be launched on Wednesday by the new UK Drugs Policy Commission, whose members include distinguished figures from the worlds of health, policing, drugs research and academia. They include David Blakey, a former president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, Annette Dale-Perera of the NHS-funded National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse and Professor Colin Blakemore, who leads the Medical Research Council. The study, 'An Analysis of UK Drugs Policy', has been written by two internationally respected experts, Professor Peter Reuter of Maryland University in the US and Alex Stevens, senior researcher at the European Institute of Social Services at Kent University. Their findings are a scathing indictment of decades of education, prevention and awareness-raising campaigns intended to warn youngsters about the perils of narcotics. The three main strategies into which successive governments have ploughed tens of millions of pounds - mass media campaigns such as 'heroin screws you up' in the 1980s, initiatives in schools aimed at pupils as young as seven and targeting of vulnerable groups - have made little or no difference, it says. 'Prevention is cited as the main policy area aiming to reduce drug initiation and continued use. The policy is predicated on the assumption that prevention efforts reduce drug use, but there is as yet no clear evidence showing that prevention has had this effect in the UK,' the authors conclude. The National Institute of Clinical Excellence recently drew similar conclusions about the usefulness of drugs prevention campaigns."
The Observer reported that " Danny Kushlick, director of the pro-legalisation Transform Drugs Policy Foundation, said the new study backed his view that attempts to discourage drug use were pointless. 'We know from evidence that misuse of drugs is related significantly to social ill-being and social deprivation. You cannot deal with that stuff with education and prevention or through teaching younger and younger children. You deal with it by redistributing wealth and improving wellbeing.'"
The following is taken from the report's summary of policy implications:
The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee released a report blasting the UK's classification of drugs. The Independent reported on August 1, 2006 ("Drug 'Classes' Have Little Link To The Dangers") that "The Home Office has been warned by its own senior advisers that alcohol and tobacco are more harmful to the nation's health than the Class A drugs LSD and ecstasy. Research by medical experts, who analysed 20 substances for their addictive qualities, social harm and physical damage, produced strikingly different results from the Government's drug classification system. Heroin and cocaine, both Class A drugs, topped the league table of harm, but alcohol was ranked fifth, ahead of prescription tranquillisers and amphetamines. Tobacco was placed ninth, ahead of cannabis, which has recently been downgraded from a Class B to Class C drug, at 11th. Alcohol and tobacco, and solvents, which can also be bought legally, were judged more damaging than LSD ( 14th ) and ecstasy ( 18th )."
According to the Independent, "The research will put more pressure on the Home Office to a rethink the 35-year-old system for classifying illegal drugs as Class A, B or C substances. It reflects the penalties for possessing them or dealing in them, but that means heroin is categorised alongside drugs such as ecstasy. The analysis was carried out by David Nutt, a senior member of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, and Colin Blakemore, the chief executive of the Medical Research Council. Copies of the report have been submitted to the Home Office, which has failed to act on the conclusions. Professor Blakemore told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: 'Alcohol, on our classification, is the fifth most harmful drug - more harmful than LSD and by a long way than ecstasy and cannabis and a whole range of illegal drugs. That's not to say there's any argument that alcohol should be made illegal, but it does give one a feel for the relative harm potential from any drug.'"
The Independent noted that "Strongly influenced by the research, MPs on the Commons science and technology select committee demanded an overhaul of the system to give the public a 'better sense of the relative harms involved'. They called for a new scale to be introduced, rating substances on the basis of health and social risks and not linked to legality or potential punishments. They questioned whether ecstasy and magic mushrooms should remain in Class A and called on the Government's drug adviser, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs ( ACMD ), to look at the issue. Phil Willis, who chairs the committee, said the current classifications were 'riddled with anomalies' and were 'clearly not fit for purpose'. 'This research shows why we need a radical overhaul of the current law and a radical review of the classification system,' he said. 'It's clearly not fit for purpose in the 21st century, neither for informing drug-users or providing public information.' One committee member, the Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris, said that putting drugs in the wrong category 'undermined the whole system'. 'Lots of young people know that there's a difference between ecstasy and heroin,' he said."
In England in May 2006, an independent panel funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation issued a report endorsing use of safe consumption rooms. The Guardian reported on May 23, 2006 ("Heroin Addicts Could Inject Themselves At Supervised Centres In Police-Backed Plans") that "Police chiefs have backed proposals which could see heroin addicts injecting themselves in officially sanctioned centres. An independent working group, tasked by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, will today recommend the introduction of supervised drug consumption rooms to the UK, so that users could take illegal drugs in safe, hygienic surroundings. Members of the group included Andy Hayman, a Scotland Yard assistant commissioner who also chairs the Association of Chief Police Officers' drugs portfolio, and his Acpo colleague, Met police detective superintendent Kevin Green."
According to the Guardian, "There are 65 drug consumption rooms ( DCRs ) in eight countries worldwide, including Switzerland, Germany, Spain, Australia and Canada, and the working group, which visited some of these during its 20-month research period, believe they reduce the risk of harm to the individual as well as the costs to society. Unlike so-called 'shooting galleries', which are largely unsupervised and where drugs are often purchased, or premises where prescribed heroin is available, users would bring their own drugs to DCRs, and although supervisors would not be able to intervene, they could advise and give immediate assistance if a user collapsed. The initial pilot proposal is for injection facilities, but European countries are increasingly adding smoking rooms, where heroin and crack cocaine can be smoked."
The Guardian noted that "Four years ago, the Home Office rejected similar recommendations from the home affairs select committee. But Dame Ruth Runciman, the chairwoman of the independent working group, hoped the government would now reconsider. 'The Home Office rightly said in 2002 that there was not enough evaluated evidence from drug consumption rooms abroad,' said Dame Ruth. 'There has been a lot more evidence since. There have been millions of injections in drug rooms abroad and only one death, which was not due to an overdose.' She suggested the consumption rooms could be run by local authorities, the NHS and voluntary bodies, but added: 'Most importantly and without question, they must involve the police.' She said the two police officers on the working group supported the group's findings as individuals, but she was aware there would be a range of reactions among the police."
Unfortunately the UK's Home Office may not be as willing to examine the evidence as Dame Ruth hoped. The opposition Tories may on the other hand be more flexible. The Daily Telegraph reported on May 24, 2006 ( "Tories Back Injection Centres For Drug Addicts") that "The Tories tentatively supported calls yesterday for the Government to set up special centres where heroin addicts could legally inject themselves. In a surprise move, Edward Garnier, the shadow home affairs minister, said: 'We do not rule out [these] recommendations. If this is to take place in a controlled environment and is to be used as a stepping stone to actually getting people off drugs, we will look at this carefully.'"
The ruling Labour Party on the other hand was less receptive. According to the Telegraph, "Vernon Coaker, the Home Office minister, said the Government's position was unchanged. 'The reasons for rejecting it in 2002 are as valid today - the risk of an increase in localised dealing, anti-social behaviour and acquisitive crime,' he said. But the DrugScope charity, which campaigns to shape drugs policy, welcomed the Joseph Rowntree Foundation report and said it hoped for a rational debate. 'A policy which can save lives deserves serious consideration, however controversial it may seem at first,' said Martin Barnes, the charity's chief executive."
The British Home Office Ministry announced in mid-January that cannabis will remain classified as a Class C drug. According to a Jan. 19, 2006 news release from the Home Secretary, Charles Clarke ( "Statement on the classification of cannabis and harm reduction measures"), "I have decided to accept the Advisory Council's [Advisory Council on Misuse of Drugs] recommendation, which is supported by the police and by most drugs and mental health charities to keep the current classification of cannabis."
In the release, the Home Secretary noted that "On cannabis, I have considered very carefully the advice which I have received from many sources. I am influenced by data on levels of use of the drug and evidence that cannabis use has fallen among 16-24 year olds from 28% in 1998 to less than 24% last year. The preliminary assessment is that, contrary to my personal expectation, reclassification has not led to an increase in use. Moreover I accept the view of the Advisory Council that further research on the mental health implications is needed before any decision to reclassify is made."
Following are excerpts from the ACMD report,
"Further Consideration of the Classification of Cannabis Under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971":
A policy report on the drug war prepared by the Blair government in June 2003 but withheld from the public was leaked to the press in early July 2005.
The Guardian reported on July 5, 2005 ( "Revealed: How Drugs War Failed") that "The profit margins for major traffickers of heroin into Britain are so high they outstrip luxury goods companies such as Louis Vuitton and Gucci, according to a study that Downing Street is refusing to publish under freedom of information legislation. Only the first half of the strategy unit study led by the former director general of the BBC, Lord Birt, was released last Friday. The other half was withheld but has been leaked to the Guardian."
According to the Guardian, "It says that the traffickers enjoy such high profits that seizure rates of 60-80% are needed to have any serious impact on the flow of drugs into Britain but nothing greater than 20% has been achieved. The study concludes that the estimated UK annual supply of heroin and cocaine could be transported into the country in five standard-sized shipping containers but has a value which at a conservative estimate tops [4 billion UK pounds]."
The Guardian noted that "The report was presented in its full form to Tony Blair in June 2003. Only 52 of its 105 pages were published on Friday night on the eve of the Live 8 concert, with a note saying the rest was being withheld under the Freedom of Information Act. The government yesterday defended its decision not to publish the half of the report that delivers a scathing verdict on efforts to disrupt the drugs supply chain. The first 50 pages deal with drug consumption patterns and drug-related crime. A Downing Street spokeswoman said the second half contained information supplied by law enforcement agencies dealing with security matters, it concerned the formulation of government policy and its publication would be prejudicial to the conduct of public affairs. But critics last night said much of the unpublished material was already in the public domain. Among the data suppressed because it was supplied by an agency involved in security is a table on page 12 from the National Criminal Intelligence Service showing average street prices for various drugs. It estimates the average cost for a heavy user at UKP89 a week for cannabis and UKP525 for crack cocaine - information that is presumably at the fingertips of every hardcore drug abuser and dealer in the country."
According to the
Objections are mounting to a proposal by the UK's Labour government to examine the possibility of upgrading the penalties for cannabis. According to London's The Mirror on May 23, 2005 ( "Don't Upgrade Cannabis Says Top Policeman"), "The law on cannabis should not be reversed to crack down on dope smokers, Scotland Yard chief Sir Ian Blair declared yesterday. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner said: 'In my view, we should stay where we are.'"
According to the Mirror, "If there was a turnaround on the downgrading of the drug the Met would push 'very hard' for fixed penalty notices rather than court appearances for those possessing a small amount. Current UKP 80 fixed penalty offences include being drunk and disorderly and shoplifting. Being drunk in a public place and dropping litter are among UKP 50 fines. The downgrading of cannabis to Class C, introduced by Mr Clarke's predecessor David Blunkett, came into effect last year and means possession of small amounts of the drug is no longer normally an arrestable offence. Police are instructed to deal with cannabis users with a formal warning and confiscation of the drug, except in certain aggravated circumstances such as smoking it outside a school."
The Labour move was reportedly prompted by the Blair government's discovery of high-potency marijuana, referred to as 'skunk'. The Mirror noted that " Just before the General Election, Prime Minister Tony Blair said the decision to downgrade cannabis to Class C - the same as steroids and some prescription anti-depressants - was being looked at again amid evidence cannabis 'isn't quite as harmless as people make out'. Home Secretary Charles Clarke has asked for advice on varieties of cannabis containing high levels of THC, its active ingredient. One option would be to split the drug classification into stronger and weaker varieties. But Sir Ian opposes this, saying: 'We would be arguing strongly not for a double classification in terms of strengths. That's impractical.'"
David Blunkett, previously Minister of the Home Office under Blair, is also arguing against the move. The Yorkshire Evening Post reported on June 16, 2005 ( "War Over U-Turn On Cannabis") that "Former Home Secretary David Blunkett is on a collision course with Charles Clarke over the decriminalistion of cannabis. Mr Blunkett today told the YEP that he was right to downgrade cannabis despite the fact that the Government looks poised to perform a U-turn. In 2002 Mr Blunkett, now Work and Pensions Secretary changed the classification from B to C effectively decriminalising it."
According to the YEP, "new Home Secretary Clarke looks set to restore the B grade after concerns about the effects of a strong form of cannabis known as skunk. A report in the Netherlands linked it with psychosis and the advisory council on the misuse of drugs is due to report back to him late this year. A Home Office spokeswoman said that the report was not due for some months and would not speculate. However Tony Blair has already indicated that reclassification is on the cards if experts recommend it."
The YEP reported that "[W]hen asked whether he was wrong to downgrade the drug Mr Blunkett told the YEP: 'No, I don't believe I was. I took the advice of the advisory council on misuse of drugs and their recommendation was very clear, but since reclassification there has been an issue about skunk . The advisory council was asked to examine whether that made a difference to their original recommendation and as far I know the Home Secretary is still waiting for them to come back to him. We took their advice on scientific grounds, saying that a differentiation was made between different types of drugs such as crack and heroin which can kill and less dangerous ones. What we were able to do was free up the police to be able to concentrate resources on those killer drugs. Whatever the solution, I know the Home Secretary will want to bear in mind that the police are dealing with this on a day to day basis,' he said adding that if the drug is reclassified 'the public will have to know that will be at a price'."
The UK's Labour Government is moving to re-examine its classification of cannabis as a Class C drug. Cannabis had been officially downgraded in January 2004. As noted by The Guardian on March 22, 2004 ( "No Retreat On Cannabis"), " Charles Clarke, the home secretary, asked the advisory council to say whether it would change their mind as a result of 'emerging evidence' of a link between cannabis consumption and deteriorating mental health. It is unlikely that they will. The advisory council - along with the Royal College of Psychiatrists' working party and a Police Foundation's independent committee of inquiry - were all aware of the risks that cannabis posed to people vulnerable to mental illness when they made their recommendations to reclassify."
The Guardian reported that "Much fuss has been aired in the red-top papers about these two studies, but with few quotes from the researchers. Yet the professor who led the New Zealand project told the New Zealand Herald: 'These are not huge increases in risk and nor should they be, because cannabis is by no means the only thing that will determine if you suffer these symptoms.' Professor Jim van Os, one of the authors of the Dutch study, was even more robust. He told the Guardian that the fact that cannabis could trigger psychosis in a small minority of people was a good reason to legalise it, not ban it. This would allow governments to promote advice and information and control more dangerous forms like skunk. Packets could carry how much THC, the most dangerous compound, the drug contained, along with how much CBD, the compound believed to provide beneficial effects."
The Guardian commented that "If ever a government had an early warning of one front it needs to defend in this election campaign, it is Labour's downgrading of cannabis. On the eve of ministers reclassifying cannabis from category B to the less harmful category C about 14 months ago, the ever-opportunistic Michael Howard declared a Conservative government would reverse it. He condemned the government's drugs strategy as 'absurd', which serious policy-makers thought 'shameless'. Now, 14 months on, ministers are behaving 'absurdly', not by referring new evidence about the drug to the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, but with their failure to set out the robust reasons behind their decision last year."
According to the Guardian, "What was missing from the minister's response was a public reminder of why the drug was reclassified. It followed expert advice from professionals - medics, pharmacologists, police officers - not red-top papers. It freed a wide swathe of police officers to pursue serious drug barons, rather than trivial offenders. No wonder polls show 60% believe the drug should be decriminalised. If ministers needed to add a political message, they could have asked Mr Howard why he wanted to wage war on 50% of young people, ensure tens of thousands of them be given criminal records and some prison sentences, for an activity that more than 2 million of them engage in quite safely during the year."
Some have derided the Government's move as election-year politics. The columnist Simon Jenkins wrote in The Times of London on March 21, 2005 ("Now Drugs Are An Election Issue"), "Pre-election nerves are getting out of hand. Consider the weekend madness from the Home Office on drugs. The new Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, once confessed to The Times that he was eager not to appear a liberal. He has duly ordered a review of the classification of cannabis on the Government's list of banned drugs. This follows 'news' that marijuana, particularly the strong strain of mostly home-grown skunk, might be more harmful than previously thought. The drug was reduced from class B to class C by Mr Clarke's predecessor, David Blunkett, just a year ago. The effect was ostensibly to save police time because possession of class C drugs was not an arrestable offence. However, Mr Blunkett immediately negated the impact of the change by making class C possession arrestable. The change was almost entirely cosmetic, but had the effect of making the drug seem more safe - or seem so to those who had never tried it and might take any notice of Home Office classifications."
As Mr. Jenkins writes, "The criminalisation of drugs has been the biggest social catastrophe of the past quarter century, wrecking tens of thousands of lives, families, communities and businesses. A new framework of control, taxation and licensed distribution must be established. Mr Clarke has no intention of doing this. He has an election on his hands. So he suddenly discovers skunk, suddenly reads medical literature, suddenly forgets he was in the Government which reclassified cannabis a year ago and suddenly orders his Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to "review" its classification. Election time is here again."
Mr. Jenkins notes, "I served for over a year on a publicly-funded research committee on the future of the 1971 Act. It left me with a number of emphatic conclusions. One was that all drugs alter minds, which is why ( mostly ) weak people take them. For some they are beneficial. For many they are harmless. For a few they can be dangerous. I would strongly discourage young people from touching drugs, as I would discourage them from many ill-advised activities. I would certainly like public policy to limit their prevalence. The 1971 Act does the opposite. It makes drugs cheap, plentiful and easy to sell to young people. It is not an act but a social crime. Making drug use illegal, and thus plunging young people into a world of high-pressure criminal salesmanship, is madness. The 1971 Act is lethal and should be abolished. Cannabis should go where nicotine, alcohol, retail drugs, off-course betting, gambling and prostitution have gone before, into the realm of regulation and control. If criminalisation could rid society of this evil, it would have done so long ago. Clearly the reverse has happened."
A report by researchers in Glasgow, Scotland, has stirred a debate in the United Kingdom over the question of controlled heroin use. BBC News reported on Feb. 3, 2005 ( "Heated Debate Over Heroin Report") that "The Glasgow Caledonian University study of 126 users of the class A drug found many were holding down normal jobs and relationships and passing exams. The report said heroin could be taken in a controlled way for a period."
Critics panned the report as promoting heroin use. Calmer voices explained that this was not the case. According to BBC, "However, Lord Victor Adebowale, the chief executive of specialist alcohol and drug organisation Turning Point, said the report was not saying that heroin was safe. He explained: 'It says that if you have a job, if you have a house, an income, are well educated and have a health system to support you, it's possible to survive an addiction to a pretty serious substance. Most people don't have this and have mental health challenges as well as a heroin problem.'"
Indeed, even the study's author stressed that the report should not be taken as minimizing the danger of heroin. As the BBC noted, "The report's author, Dr David Shewan, agreed that heroin was not a safe drug. He said the concept of controlled drug use was a 'largely unexplored' area of research and warned that the results should be treated with caution. The doctor added: 'However, this study shows that the chemical properties of specific substances, including heroin, should not be assumed to inevitably lead to addictive and destructive patterns of drug use. Drug research should incorporate this previously hidden population to more fully inform theory and practice. Psychological and social factors have to be taken into account when looking at how to deal with any form of addiction, including heroin addiction.'"
According to the BBC:
The study is to be published in the British Journal of Health Psychology.
The politics.co.uk website features an excellent discussion of this report as an "Issue of the Day: Evidence For Controlled Heroin Use?".
The government of Prime Minister Tony Blair is facing strong criticism over a planned expansion of alcohol availability. The BBC reported Jan. 3, 2005 ( "NHS Fear Over 24-Hour Drink Plans") that " Plans to allow 24-hour drinking can only increase the £1.7bn alcohol-fuelled harm costs the NHS every year, a top medical group has warned. The Royal College of Physicians said there was already an "epidemic" of binge drinking and the plan 'flies in the face of common sense'. But Licensing Minister Richard Caborn said the government was tackling the causes and the symptoms of the problem."
A BBC News poll conducted in Jan. 2005 found that overwhelming numbers of Britons are opposed to the change ( "Britons 'Fear Longer Pub Opening'"). According to BBC News, " Almost two-thirds of Britons believe extended pub opening hours will make the country a worse place to live, according to a poll for the BBC. Some 67% thought anti-social behaviour would increase with 24-hour opening, due later in 2005, in the ICM poll of over 1,000 adults for BBC Breakfast. The government has said disorderly pubs will get 'yellow card' warnings before being forced to fund extra policing."
A broad range of opponents are voicing their opposition. As the BBC reported, " Lib Dem home affairs spokesman Mark Oaten said his party favoured a delay on introducing the new licensing laws. He said: 'It would clearly be prudent to allow the police and local authorities more time to prepare for flexible drinking hours. The government's plans for a levy on the drinking industry also need to be worked through in detail before any new licenses are granted.' Mr Oaten's remarks follow calls from the Tories and Britain's most senior police officer, Met chief Sir John Stevens, to put the new law on hold."
BBC presented an intriguing set of pro and con arguments on Jan. 14, 2005 ( "Head-to-Head: 24-Hour Drinking"). In it, Mark Jones, CEO of a company which owns 153 pubs and is "vehemently opposed" argues against the law changes, while Mark Hastings, a representative of the British Beer and Pub Association argues that "drinkers should be treated like adults and allowed to carry on after 11pm." While on the one hand, 11pm is clearly quite early, Jones, the pub owner notes that " The latest we open is two in the morning. We have spent hundreds of thousands opening late, we provide food until one. There is already saturation on the number of late licences."
A public outcry is forcing the Blair government to back down from its recently-announced plan to begin random drug testing of students. The Daily Telegraph reported on Feb. 24, 2004 ( "Government Backs Down On Random Drug Tests In Schools") that "Random drug tests on school pupils will not be compulsory, Tony Blair said yesterday. Downing Street was forced on the defensive after teachers' leaders and anti-drug campaigners claimed the plan was unworkable. The Prime Minister used a weekend newspaper interview to say that head teachers could be given the power to impose tests where they thought drug use was a problem in their schools."
According to the Daily Telegraph, "Teaching unions have advised their members to use the proposed powers only as a last resort because of concerns that parents of pupils subjected to such tests could sue schools for human rights abuses. Ivan Lewis, the junior education minister, confirmed that consent would have to be sought for any drug testing. For under-16s, heads would have to get the consent of the parents. Post-16, the advice was that they should consult the pupil."
A broad base of opposition to the drug testing proposal has arisen. The Guardian newspaper noted editorials in several major UK newspapers denouncing the idea ( "'It Is Too Nanny-State To Stomach'", Feb. 24, 2004).
Teachers and teaching unions have expressed their opposition. The Times of London noted on Feb. 23, 2004 ( "Teachers Rebuff Random Tests For Drugs In Schools") that "But John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said: 'I am concerned at the implication that the drugs problem is rooted in schools and that schools should solve it. Yet another burden is being placed on schools, which have a contribution to make to solving the drugs problem but policies must look much more widely. I do not think that head teachers will want to carry out random drugs testing in schools. It is something that would change the atmosphere in schools, would change the relationship between the school and the pupil.' Jean Gemmell, general secretary of the Professional Association of Teachers, said: 'My first reaction was to be fairly horrified, mostly because I cannot quite see how on earth it is going to work. As a former head and someone who represents teachers, it is adding to their burden of social responsibility to the point that it becomes untenable.' Eamonn O'Kane, general secretary of the teaching union NASUWT, added: 'This would be a very big step for any head teacher to take. It is effectively giving them police powers and I think a head teacher would want to think very, very carefully before exercising them.'"
Concerns have also arisen that such a proposal may violate human rights and lead to legal challenges. The BBC News reported on Feb. 23, 2004 ( "Teachers Demand Urgent Drug Talks") that "The prospect of legal challenges over drug testing has also been raised by Carolyn Hamilton, director of the Children's Legal Centre at the University of Essex, which examines policy and law affecting children. Insisting that pupils take drug tests could be in breach of the rights to privacy in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, Ms Hamilton told BBC News Online. 'We're very much against random drug testing,' she said, both on the grounds of principle and the expense and complexity of how it would be put into practice. And she says that it is not clear what is the intended outcome of such a policy. If large numbers of teenagers are using drugs, she asks what would be the consequence of the testing. Would it mean that large numbers of pupils would be excluded from school?"
Even the head of a UK drugs charity has raised concerns. The BBC noted in its report that "And the former chief constable of Gwent Police, Francis Wilkinson, who is patron of the drugs charity Transform, also had considerable doubts. He said the scheme would effectively be a test for cannabis, because more harmful drugs are flushed out of users' systems much more quickly. Mr Wilkinson told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: 'It is a non-starter. You can't do it without consent, and a child can't give informed consent, so you would get consent from parents. Some won't agree and, of course, even if they do, a child can certainly refuse. Do you say it is a condition of entry to a school that consent is given by parents? The state has the responsibility of educating everyone, so how do you deal with the fact that not all parents and certainly not all children are going to consent?' He added: 'It is difficult to see how this could possibly work.'"
The UK Parliament has endorsed the Labour Government's move to officially downgrade cannabis from a Class B to a Class C drug. The Guardian of London reported on Oct. 29, 2003 ( "MPs Vote To Downgrade Cannabis") that "The reclassification of cannabis from class B to class C was backed by 316 votes to 160, a majority of 156, despite Conservative warnings that it would lead more young people into hard drugs. The downgrading of cannabis is now scheduled to go ahead on January 29. Junior home office minister Caroline Flint said the change was part of an 'honest and credible' strategy to tackle the scourge of drugs, denying it was tantamount to legalising the drug or would increase cannabis use. Under the switch, cannabis will be ranked alongside bodybuilding steroids and some anti-depressants. Possession of cannabis will no longer be an arrestable offence in most cases, although police will retain the power to arrest users in certain aggravated situations - such as when the drug is smoked outside schools. The home secretary, David Blunkett, has said the change in the law is necessary to enable police to spend more time tackling class A drugs such as heroin and crack cocaine which cause the most harm and trigger far more crime. Ms Flint told MPs: 'This Labour government is absolutely right to focus on the most dangerous drugs, to intervene most vigorously in the most damaged communities and to seek to break the link between addiction and the crime that feeds it.'"
A streaming version of (most of )the debate over this measure can be heard by clicking here.
Heroin traffickers connected with Irish Protestant paramilitaries are reported to be active in Scotland. The London Observer reported on July 28, 2002 ( "Ulster Drug Gangs Occupy Centre Stage In Edinburgh") that "At least two senior members of the Protestant Ulster Volunteer Force ( UVF ) have visited Edinburgh in recent weeks to give a heroin-dealing operation their blessing and a special unit has been set up by Lothian and Borders Police to deal with a 50-strong gang of violent criminals who have taken hold of the city's drug trade. Fears of Belfast rivalries spilling on to the streets of Scotland escalated after it was revealed that (Mad Dog) Johnny Adair, head of the Ulster Freedom Fighters ( UFF ), had arrived in Ayrshire on Friday night for a fundraising event. A truce between the factions was only drawn up recently after a bloody turf war in Ulster."
According to the Observer, "Brian Fallon, Edinburgh councillor for the area, said: 'People have come into the community from Northern Ireland and there have been allegations of drug dealing and other criminal activity. The police, the housing department and the social work department are all working closely to try to resolve this situation.' The profits of the Edinburgh trade are laundered through pubs in the west of Scotland run by sympathisers and the cash returns to Northern Ireland, where it underpins expanding criminal empires. In a recent report to the House of Commons, the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee said republican and loyalist paramilitaries could be netting more than UKP18m a year from criminal activities. In the past two months existing drugs gangs have fled the streets of Edinburgh's schemes and a stand-off between locals and the loyalist gang saw police deploy a riot squad in an attempt to keep the peace."
British Home Secretary David Blunkett announced on July 10, 2002, that the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair agrees with many of the recommendations made earlier in the year by the Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) (see "Commons Home Affairs Select Committee Report On Drugs Issued," below for details on the report). According to the Home Secretary's office ( "'All Controlled Drugs Harmful, All Will Remain Illegal' - Home Secretary"), Mr. Blunkett said "We must concentrate our efforts on the drugs that cause the most harm, while sending a credible message to young people. I will therefore ask Parliament to reclassify cannabis from Class B to Class C. I have considered the recommendations of the Home Affairs Committee, and the advice given me by the ACMD medical experts that the current classification of cannabis is disproportionate in relation to the harm that it causes."
Mr. Blunkett did however reject some of the HASC's recommendations: "I cannot accept the proposal from the Committee to reclassify ecstasy from Class A to Class B. We still have much to learn about the long-term harm that it causes, but what we do know is that ecstasy can kill unpredictably and that there is no such thing as a safe dose. I believe all killer drugs such as ecstasy should remain in Class A. I also want to express caution on the recommendation by the Committee to pilot the use of safe injecting rooms for heroin users."
The full response from the UK government to the Parliamentary committee's report is available by clicking here, or can be downloaded as PDF from here. In addition, the Home Office has prepared a Factsheet on the upcoming cannabis reclassification, which is available from here.
A program established in Scotland to help former addicts stay in control when released from prison has come under attack. The Herald reported on July 1, 2002 ( "Prison Policy 'Surrender To Drugs Crisis') that "The Scottish Executive has said that a handful of 'totally chaotic' prisoners are offered a heroin substitute to prevent them from overdosing or reoffending when released. Richard Simpson, deputy health minister, yesterday defended the scheme, which he said was aimed at preventing people from dying. However, Bill Aitken, the Tory justice spokesman, attacked the scheme as being 'total and abject surrender' to the drugs crisis. Three out of every four prisoners enter jail with some kind of drug problem, and 15 drug addicts died within two weeks of being released from jail in 1999."
According to the Herald, "The Scottish Prison Service introduced the controversial scheme, called the Retox Programme, earlier this year to prevent the growing number of released prisoners overdosing on heroin while on parole. Inmates are assessed by psychologists and drug counsellors, and are offered a place on the programme if it is thought there is a strong possibility they will return to drugs when released." The Herald reports that "Vic Walker, of the Open Door Trust, a charity that works with people affected by unemployment, drugs, alcohol and crime, said yesterday: 'I think there is a place ( for re-toxification ) within an overall strategy, but . . . should always be seen as a stepping stone to get people to the ultimate destination of being able to be free to reach their potential.'"
The Herald notes that "Dr Simpson stressed that the re-tox programme applied to 'a group of totally chaotic people who repeatedly, in going out of prison, have risked their lives by taking quantities of hard drugs. If we can stop them from dying, this is a measure we are prepared to take.' He said the alternative was for people to come out of jail and commit crimes for drug money. 'There are 7500 prisoners entering treatment systems and only a handful in re-toxification. This must be kept in total perspective,' he said."
The House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee report on drugs policy in the UK was released on May 22, 2002. The entire report can be viewed from the Parliament website. The report's Conclusion is below.
New rumors are flying about the contents of a report from a select committee of the House of Commons due out Wednesday. According to the Times of London on May 19, 2002 ( "MPs Back Softer Line On Cannabis"), "A report from the cross-party home affairs select committee, due on Wednesday, is widely expected to say cannabis should be downgraded from a class B to a class C drug. This would mean it remained illegal but possession of it would attract a caution or a fine rather than arrest. The committee is also likely to suggest that ministers consider setting up 'shooting galleries' where addicts can inject drugs under medical supervision in a safe, clean room."
The Times reports that "The MPs will strongly endorse the Lambeth experiment where possession of small amounts of cannabis is no longer an arrestable offence. David Blunkett, the home secretary, has already proposed the reclassification of cannabis and with the MPs' backing a change in the law is likely. However, the MPs have rejected calls for Dutch-style coffee shops where cannabis can be smoked freely. The committee is also expected to recommend convicted addicts be offered treatment programmes rather than go to prison and that there be a new legal definition of 'social supply', so young people who buy a few ecstasy tablets to share are not prosecuted as drug dealers."
The London Observer reported on May 19, 2002 ( "MPs To Back 'Heroin On NHS'") "MPs are set to back Home Secretary David Blunkett's call for more addicts to be prescribed heroin, the Observer reports. Mr Blunkett believes more people dependent on drugs should get access to them on prescription provided they agree to seek treatment. The Observer reports that his view will be endorsed by the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee when it issues a report next week into Britain's drug problems. The MPs will also reportedly propose the use of controversial 'safe injecting areas', such as those seen in some continental countries, the paper says. A Home Office spokeswoman told the newspaper that there was nothing new in proposals to make greater use of diamorphine - so-called medical heroin. She said: 'The home secretary's position has not changed since October when he said that doctors should prescribe more drugs if that is a way to bring addicts in for treatment.'"
A story in London's Independent on May 18, 2002 ( "Hard Drug Users Should Not Go To Jail, Say MPs") reports that "MPs on the committee will recommend that prisons are not the best way to ensure drug addicts overcome their problems and will recommend better access to treatment programmes. Addicts who steal and commit fraud to fund drug-taking should be offered places on treatment programmes instead of jail. The long-awaited report by MPs, which follows 10 months of evidence from experts, drugs organisations and the police, will say that police and court time should not be wasted on punishing people who use small amounts for recreational purposes. Cannabis users should not face arrest, the report is expected to say, endorsing the trial scheme being operated in Lambeth where police have not pursued casual users. The report, which will be published on Wednesday, will say that police energy should focus on catching the criminal gangs who supply hard drugs rather than on recreational users of marijuana, including those who grow small quantities for their own use or that of friends."
In stinging reproach to the growing number of diverse groups and individuals in the UK calling for cannabis legalization (for example, "Mowlam: Legalise All Drugs," London Independent, April 28, 2002) in addition to other drug policy reforms, "An enquiry into Britain's drugs laws by the Home Affairs Select Committee will conclude that decriminalisation of the drug would send out the wrong message and lead to an increase in supply," according to the London Independent on May 12, 2002 ( "Cannabis Must Stay Illegal, MPs Say"). The Committee will however support Home Secretary David Blunkett's proposal to reclassify cannabis as a Class C drug. According to the Independent, "Full legalisation of cannabis - a step further - will also be explicitly rejected by the committee in its report, which will recommend reclassifying the drug from Class B to Class C. However, it will endorse the use of cannabis-based medicines for patients with spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis and nerve path damage."
The Independent continues: "Plans for more liberal changes to Britain's drug laws are understood to have been blocked by some members of the committee. 'Some members did support legalisation of cannabis and others were completely opposed to the idea,' said a Westminster source. The committee's report is also understood to be opposed to any softening of laws on heroin and ecstasy."
Home Secretary David Blunkett is expected later this month to downgrade cannabis to a Class C drug, as recommended by a government advisory panel earlier in 2002 ( see "UK Government Medical Advisory Council Report Recommends Reclassifying Cannabis, Says Less Of A Risk Than Alcohol") The Independent notes that this move "is in response to pressure for reform of drug laws from drugs charities and politicians, as well as senior police officers who want to concentrate their resources on fighting hard drugs such as heroin and cocaine."
This same committee report will call for cuts to some agencies
providing harm reduction information. According to a separate
story in the Independent on May 12, 2002 (
"MPs Demand Cut In Funds For Agencies Accused Of Promoting
"The final report of the House of Commons home affairs
select committee inquiry into drugs will say that some agencies
are overstepping the line between giving health advice and are
now actually promoting drug use."
The Independent reports that
"In their report, the MPs conclude that the Government
should review funding of drugs agencies and withdraw public
money from those that overstep the mark.
The agencies respond that their literature may be hard for
some to deal with, but they are realistic and accurate. According
to the Independent,
"Mike Linnell, Lifeline's communications director,
admitted that his publicity material was open to criticism
but added: 'Telling people not to take drugs as they
can be dangerous doesn't work, so we aim to provide
information on how to keep alive if they do use the drugs.
Support for reform of drug policies in the United Kingdom continues to grow. The BBC reported on May 2, 2002 ( "Police Back Softer Line On Drug Users") that "Police chiefs say they would have a better chance of winning the war on drugs if addicts were given treatment instead of punishment. The Association of Chief Police Officers ( ACPO ) also believes it would be better to adopt a more relaxed stance towards people caught with small amounts of cannabis. ACPO unveiled its proposals in a report, carried out by its influential drugs committee, saying in some circumstances, treatment should be considered instead of prosecution."
Though a radical change, there is some evidence that such policies will work. As noted by the Independent newspaper on May 2, 2002 ( "Police Chiefs Plan Softer Approach To Hard Drugs"), "A similar policy has been pioneered under the direction of Brian Paddick, the controversial commander whose tactics have led to an increase in arrests for hard drugs in his south London borough. Figures out in March showed that drug arrests rose by more than 65 per cent in a year in Lambeth after Commander Paddick decided not to arrest cannabis users and instead pursue heroin and crack cocaine dealers. The Metropolitan Police's statistics showed that there were 159 class A drug arrests in Lambeth in February compared with 96 for both cannabis and class A drugs in the same month last year. Levels of street crime were cut by 35 per cent and burglaries were down as was the number of hours that police were using for paperwork following cannabis arrests. In Lambeth, cannabis users have had their drugs confiscated but given only a verbal warning."
Two studies were released in March 2002 on the success of a pilot program in Lambeth, England, in which cannabis offenders are given a warning only. The Times of London reported on March 22, 2002 ( "Softer Line Against Cannabis Saves 1,300 Police Hours"), that "A pilot scheme in which people caught in possession of cannabis are let off with a warning saved more than 1,300 hours of police time in its first six months, according to a report published yesterday. The scheme also won the support of residents in Lambeth, South London, but the Metropolitan Police say that similar action might not work in other boroughs. The force gave a cautious welcome to an internal study of the project, which had been launched in Lambeth by Commander Brian Paddick, but said that further work was needed to consider the impact for the rest of London."
According to the Times, "During the pilot scheme there was a 35 per cent increase in recorded offences of possession and an 11 per cent rise in drug trafficking offences recorded by police. In adjoining boroughs recorded cannabis possession offences fell by 4 per cent and trafficking by 34 per cent. But the study said that Lambeth increased its activity in focusing on the use, possession and trafficking of Class A drugs." A summary of the study by the Metropolitan Police, "Evaluation of Lambeth's Pilot of Warnings For Possession Of Cannabis," is available as a PDF, or as a Word document, from this URL: http://www.met.police.uk/pns/DisplayPN.cgi?pn_id=2002_0010.
The Times also reported that "A separate study by MORI, the polling organisation for the Police Foundation, found that 83 per cent of Lambeth residents supported the scheme. It said that 36 per cent supported the project outright, and that 47 per cent gave it conditional support. Sir John Stevens, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, said: 'A larger percentage of white residents than black or Asian residents supported the scheme.' The figures show that it was backed by 41 per cent of white residents, 28 per cent of black residents and 25 per cent of Asians." The level of support is quite high given the relative lack of awareness of the particulars of the program. According to the Times, "The survey, conducted in November and December among 2,055 residents, found that 56 per cent said that they knew at least a little about the scheme, while 41 per cent knew nothing at all. Of the 56 per cent who knew something, only 38 per cent knew correctly that police would give warnings instead of formal cautions, 14 per cent knew that cannabis would be confiscated and 6 per cent incorrectly said that it had been legalised. A national survey about the scheme earlier this year found 76 per cent of 1,952 adults questioned approved of it." The Police Foundation survey of Lambeth residents can be downloaded from the Police Foundation at http://www.police-foundation.org.uk/site/Reports.asp or from http://www.csdp.org/research/reportonpolicingthepossessionofcannabis.pdf.
The UK Government's Advisory Council on Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) issued its report, "The classification of cannabis under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971," on March 14, 2002. According to the government's news release ( "Government Medical Experts Recommend Reclassification of Cannabis"), "In its report to the Home Secretary the ACMD advises that the current classification of cannabis is disproportionate in relation both to its inherent harmfulness, and to the harmfulness of other substances, such as amphetamines, that are currently in Class B." The report concludes that:
According to the BBC News on March 14, 2002 ( "Medical Advisors Back Cannabis Reform"), "A decision on the recommendations will be made after a Home Affairs select committee report on drugs strategy and a review of a pilot project in Lambeth, south London. Both are due by Easter." The report notes that "The prime minister's official spokesman said that while Home Secretary David Blunkett had said he was 'minded' to re-classify cannabis 'there are no plans for decriminalisation or legalisation'. Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith said downgrading or decriminalising cannabis would be an ill-thought out solution to a complex problem." However, the BBC noted that "The publication of the report follows last weekend's vote by the Liberal Democrats to support the legalisation of cannabis. Delegates also voted to end imprisonment for the possession of any illegal drug - including heroin and cocaine - and backed the downgrading of ecstasy from a Class A to a Class B drug."
According to a report from BBC News on March 15, 2002 ( "Police Chief Praises Cannabis Scheme"), the Lambeth pilot project is turning out very positively. "The police chief pioneering a tolerant approach to cannabis has told BBC News he is 'very pleased' with the success of the scheme. Lambeth Police Commander Brian Paddick said the pilot project - under which people found with small quantities of cannabis are let off with a warning rather than being arrested and cautioned - should be continued. The scheme had saved a lot of police time and had led to a 'dramatic increase' in arrests for hard drugs and much better relationships between the local south London community and police, he said."
Officials in Scotland have officially declared their 'just say no' war on drugs to be over. As the Glasgow Sunday Herald reported on March 3, 2002 ( "Ministers Declare 'War On Drugs' Is Over"), "This weekend Scotland's drugs minister has officially declared that the 30-year war on drugs is over. In an exclusive interview with the Sunday Herald, Dr Richard Simpson, also the deputy justice minister, said: 'The only time you will hear me use terms such as 'War On Drugs' and 'Just Say No' is to denigrate them.' Instead Simpson has pledged to ensure that Scotland's harm-reduction, methadone, and rehabilitation services are fixed."
Scotland's new strategy will be based on truth and education. According to the Sunday Herald, "Simpson, who was a prison doctor, said: 'I've never used the term 'teach children how to take drugs', but what I would say is that we need to provide them with information. We need to say 'we'd rather you didn't take ecstasy, but if you make that decision, here are the risks'. We have to give them all the information they need to take responsibility for themselves. It's not about us wagging a finger at young people as they won't pay attention to that -- so it's not worthwhile. We've got to be very realistic and not say 'you're going to die if you take ecstasy', what we will say is 'some people do die when they take ecstasy but we don't truly know why'.'"
The call for harm reduction policies to replace the US-style drug war was echoed by other officials. The Sunday Herald reports that "In an another interview, the UK pensions minister Ian McCartney, whose son died of a heroin overdose because he was not given methadone in jail, told the Sunday Herald: 'It wasn't a prison sentence he got, it was a death sentence. There is no sense to the current system. Going to jail harmed my son and did nothing to address the cause of crime.' Now he is determined to change the system. 'I'm not just a government minister,' he said. 'I'm a parent too, and if I thought our strategy was flawed I wouldn't be part of it. The prevailing attitude both in and out of government towards addicts has been 'it's all your own fault'. That's why we have virtually no treatment services and a legacy of 3000 deaths a year. In 20 years, 60,000 people have died -- that's enough to fill Ibrox Stadium. That's why we need harm-reduction policies in place.'"
Simpson backs the proposal to downgrade the classification of cannabis to Class C, and compares the harms from marijuana with those caused by a more dangerous drug, alcohol: "Backing David Blunkett's plan to downgrade the criminal classification of cannabis, he said: 'We need to concentrate on the most dangerous drugs and that is class-As such as heroin and cocaine. The reason for changing the classification of cannabis -- if we chose to -- is to send a clear message about priorities. It says to young people that we recognise that all drugs aren't the same. If we give messages that they are all bad then we will not be believed. Young people say alcohol causes five times the deaths that drugs do. Last year there were 1500 deaths due to alcohol and 292 from drugs. From a criminal point of view young men drinking and becoming aggressive is a significant problem ... cannabis is not associated with aggression.'"
A report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, a charity based in the UK, estimates that "David Blunkett's plan to downgrade cannabis to the same category as tranquillisers such as valium could save police at least UKP38 million a year," and possibly as much as 350 Million pounds. According to the Daily Telegraph on March 13, 2002 ( "Drug Move Could Save Police Millions"), "The independent report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation also says the move could also vastly improve police officers' relations with the public." According to the Daily Telegraph, "Co-author Professor Mike Hough said the Lambeth experiment - in which Metropolitan Police officers have dealt with cannabis users by confiscating the drug and giving an informal warning - should be extended across Britain. 'It would make sense to reclassify cannabis to Class C,' he said. 'There would be significant gains all round.'"
The report, "Times They Are A-Changing: Policing Of Cannabis," "by South Bank University's Criminal Policy Research Unit, represents the first, detailed study of the policing of cannabis in England and Wales. It has taken place against a backdrop of intensive media and political debate on the issue and the prospect of imminent legislative reform." According to the Rowntree Foundation ( "Study Reveals Widespread Inconsistencies In Policing Of Cannabis on The Streets"), "Many police officers have effectively decriminalised possession of cannabis by turning a blind eye to the offence, or issuing informal warnings. But a small minority of patrol officers 'specialise' in cannabis offences, accounting for a disproportionate number of arrests for possession. The picture of widespread inconsistencies in the treatment of cannabis possession offences emerges from a unique street-level study for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, based on hours of observing what happens 'on the beat' as well as interviews with police and those they arrest. It finds that the chances of being arrested depend on the force areas where an offence is discovered and on the experience and attitudes of individual officers."
According to a
summary prepared by the Rowntree Foundation of the report:
The researchers conclude that:
The United Kingdom is on the verge of making dramatic changes in its drug policies, giving police time and resources to concentrate on hard drugs by easing up on marijuana. The Independent on Sunday reported on March 10, 2002 ( "Cannabis Is Now Just A Signature Away From Legitimacy (Over To You, Mr. Blunkett)") that "David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, will be told this week by his official panel of drug advisers to downgrade cannabis from a Class B to a Class C drug. The change, which would enable users to smoke a joint in the street without fear of arrest, would be the first relaxation of drug laws in Britain for 30 years." According to The Independent, "Yesterday, in a separate initiative, the Liberal Democrats became the first major political party to vote for the full legalisation of cannabis. They also voted for an end to prison sentences for those caught in possession of other drugs, including cocaine, ecstasy and heroin, and called for ecstasy to be downgraded from a Class A to a Class B drug. The vote came as the Home Office considers recommendations from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs ( ACMD ) that cannabis should be given the same status as prescription tranquillizers such as valium, making its possession a non-arrestable offence."
Pressure on the UK government to reform its policies has mounted in the past few months, as the results of research supporting these changes has become public. The Independent in its story noted that "Next Wednesday, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation will reveal that up to UKP50m a year is spent on policing cannabis and the time this involves is equivalent to the work of 500 police officers a year. The Metropolitan Police and the Police Foundation are also compiling separate reports into a pilot scheme by police in Lambeth, south London. Originally planned to last six months, senior officers have found the scheme in Brixton, where cannabis users are not arrested but given on-the-spot warnings, to be successful enough to warrant extending for the time being."
Already, significant changes in policy around the UK are being enacted. In Scotland, for example, the entire direction of drug prevention policy is shifting. As the Daily Telegraph reported on March 4, 2002 ( "'Just Say No' Drugs Campaign Dropped"), "Scotland's 'Just say no' approach to tackling drug taking is to be abandoned in favour of educating young people about the dangers of substance abuse. Concern over the rising tide of drug-related deaths and the increasing number of drug users has prompted a dramatic shift in policy and the Scottish Executive to reject an authoritarian approach. Ministers will announce a new drugs communication strategy this month designed to help young people make informed decisions about drug taking." According to the Daily Telegraph, "Richard Simpson, the Deputy Justice Minister, said yesterday: 'The only time you will hear me use terms such as 'war on drugs' or 'just say no' is to denigrate them.' He stressed he was keen to avoid the impression that the Executive was going soft on drugs, but said young people must be given the responsibility to make informed decisions. Dr Simpson, a former prison doctor, said that he disagreed with giving jail sentences to drug addicts. He said: 'It neither addresses their offending behaviour nor does it cut crime.'"
The UK's government has also taken a step in support of harm reduction efforts directed toward club-goers. A guidebook for club owners regarding safe use of Ecstasy and other club drugs has been issued by the UK Home Office. According to The Times of London on March 8, 2002 ( "Home Office Softens Line Against Dance Drugs"), "In a new set of Home Office guidelines the Government accepts that drug-taking is a part of youth culture that cannot be eradicated. It wants the public to recognise that drug misuse has to be fought on many fronts. The guide underpins the Government's strategy of focusing on dealers and the impact of hard drugs such as heroin and cocaine while developing ways of minimising the harm caused by dance club drugs. It gives clubs advice on how to prevent dealing and how to make the venues safer for clubbers using drugs, including the provision of 'chill-out' rooms, water and better ventilation."
According to the Home Office news release, spokesperson Bob Ainsworth said "It is important that we begin to change the culture and attitudes to drug taking that have become a lifestyle choice for so many young people enjoying the club scene. But we have to recognise that some clubbers will continue to ignore the risks and carry on taking dangerous drugs. If we cannot stop them from taking drugs then we must be prepared to take steps to reduce the harm that they may cause themselves." A PDF copy of the "Safer Clubbing" guide is available from the Home Office's drugs office.
The UN's International Narcotics Control Board issued its 2001 Annual Report on February 27, 2002. The report offers few surprises and makes the usual criticisms of legal reform and harm reduction efforts (see for example this item on last year's INCB annual report).
The INCB report criticized western European nations for moving toward decriminalization of soft drugs, particularly marijuana. The INCB also singled out Australia for particular criticism regarding the heroin injection room trial going on in New South Wales. As the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported on February 27, 2002 ( "NSW Gov't Rejects UN Criticism Of Heroin Injecting Room Trial"), "In a worldwide report released today, the board says the safe-injecting room trial shows the Government condones the use and trafficking of illicit drugs. The Special Minister of State, John Della Bosca, says the report makes no mention of the fact the Government has promised to provide the board with the results of the supervised injecting room trial in Kings Cross."
The Australia Associated press on February 27, 2002, reported ( "UN Drugs Body Wants NSW Injecting Rooms Closed") that "The injecting room opened after intense debate on May 6 last year, a product of the state's 1999 Drug Summit. Supporters argue it is saving lives and providing referrals to help addicts get off drugs. The centre was currently used by an average 120 injecting drug users a day, its medical director Ingrid van Beek said. More than 800 clients had been referred to counsellors and other medical services and more than 100 overdoses had been successfully treated. There had been no fatalities at the centre."
The European Union's drug agency, the European Monitoring Center on Drugs and Drug Addiction, in November 2001 issued its Annual Report 2001 on the State of the Drugs Problem in the European Union. The report is available in electronic format free of charge.
The United Kingdom is moving closer to reforming its prohibitionist drug laws. Home Secretary David Blunkett has announced his support for a downgrading of marijuana possession offenses. More importantly, he announced support for medicalization of marijuana, which may mean that patients in the UK now in dire need of cannabis may be able to get their medicine legally. As the BBC reported on Oct. 23, 2001 ("Cannabis Laws Set To Be Eased"), "Home Secretary David Blunkett has announced he wants the UK's laws covering cannabis to be eased so possession will no longer be an arrestable offence. The drug would remain illegal under Mr Blunkett's proposals but be re-classified from a class 'B' to a class 'C' drug. The aim is to free police to concentrate on harder drugs and improve current legislation so it will 'make more sense' to people on the street, he said. In a parallel move, licensing of cannabis derivatives for medical use - such as the relief of multiple sclerosis symptoms - will be given government backing if current trials prove successful. Cannabis possession and supply would remain a criminal offence, attracting maximum sentences of five years for supply and two years for possession. But rather than arresting people caught with cannabis, police will be more likely to issue a warning, a caution or a court summons."
Blunkett's proposal comes just as a bill to legalize cannabis is to be argued in the House of Commons. According to the London Independent on Oct. 18, 2001 ( "'Let Beleagured Farmers Grow Cannabis'"), "Jon Owen Jones said the measure would 'remove criminals from the equation' and could provide a 'hardy cash crop' for British farmers, left on their knees by foot-and-mouth disease, BSE, tumbling dairy prices and concerns over GM crops. The Cardiff Central MP's Legalisation of Cannabis Bill is due to be debated in the House of Commons next week, but is highly unlikely to become law."
According to the Independent:
The House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee will soon conduct an inquiry into the question of decriminalization marijuana. According to a report in The Guardian (UK) on July 26, 2001 ( "MPs To Launch First Official Inquiry Into Decriminalisation Of Drugs"), the inquiry will be timed to "coincide with the end of the six-month experiment in Lambeth where police have said they will not arrest people for the possession of cannabis." The committee, under its new chairman, Chris Mullin, is expected to hear from "a succession of senior police officers who believe that cannabis prosecutions should no longer be an operational priority for the police." Witnesses before the committee will "include the home secretary, David Blunkett, who has described the Lambeth operation as 'an interesting experiment' and called for 'an adult, intelligent debate' on the issue, as well as the lord chancellor, Lord Irvine."
Mr. Mullin promises to deal seriously with this question. The Guardian reports "Mr. Mullin appealed for evidence to be submitted to his inquiry by the end of September. 'There is a big debate going on outside parliament among serious people in the criminal justice system, including senior police officers, probation officers and members of the judiciary. Until now, politicians have tended to shy away from it. But we think the time has come for a serious assessment of the way we deal with drugs. We have an entirely open mind so we're not headed for any particular conclusion. But we hope to bring all the arguments into the open,' said Mr. Mullin, who resigned as a minister because he believed he could be more effective as a select committee chairman."
The Guardian also notes that "The inquiry will not only ask whether existing drugs policy works but also look at the effect of decriminalisation on the availability of and demand for drugs, on drug-related deaths, and on crime. The inquiry's terms of reference also ask: 'Is decriminalisation desirable and, if not, what are the practical alternatives?' The MPs say they will look into the possible decriminalisation of all types of drugs and not just cannabis."
Legislation has been introduced in the House of Commons to "'legalise and regulate the sale, supply and use of cannabis for recreational and therapeutic purposes.'" The bill was introduced by Jon Owen Jones, Labour MP for Cardiff Central, according to a report in The Scotsman on July 20, 2001 ( "Cannabis Bill Passes First Hurdle"). The bill was given an unopposed first reading in the Commons, which means "the bill will be debated when parliament returns in the autumn, but it stands almost no chance of becoming law without government backing, which it does not have."
Meanwhile, the Times of London reported on July 20, 2001 ( "Ease Drug Laws Say Labour MPs") that "More than a quarter of Labour backbenchers want cannabis decriminalized immediately while more than 80 per cent would support a major inquiry into the issue, an opinion poll for BBC Radio 4 World at One programme showed yesterday." The Times noted that "The survey of 234 Labour MPs yielded answers from 116, while 118 chose not to comment."
According to the BBC ( "Labour MPs In Cannabis Shift" July 19, 2001), their survey "prompted one Labour member of the influential Commons home affairs select committee to predict cannabis would be decriminalised by the end of this parliament." The BBC reported that "David Winnick -- a member of the home affairs select committee which is rumoured to be considering its own inquiry into the drug -- told World at One: 'I would have thought cannabis at least would be decriminalized by the next election, and would I not be right in saying to a large extent it is? What is required is courage from the government to recognise what is happening and a sensible attitude from the main opposition party, not playing politics with it.'"
The BBC spoke with "Dame Ruth Runciman, whose report for the Police Foundation last year called for cannabis to be downgraded to Class C status, said the survey results reflected 'considerable unease' about the UK's drug laws. 'It looks as though Labour MPs are beginning to be sensitive to the constituency for some degree of change that there seems to be out there,' she said."
UK Police Shift Local Enforcement Priorities, Ease Up On Marijuana Users; Broader National Shift Also Seen
The United Kingdom is conducting an experiment in South London. As The Economist magazine explained in their story July 7, 2001 ) "Brixton Lights Up"), "A trial which has just begun in South London allows anyone caught with cannabis to be given an informal warning rather than being arrested and cautioned and prosecuted. As each cannabis arrest takes two police officers off the street for up to five hours, and the process of taking a cannabis suspect to court costs up to £10,000, the pilot scheme makes sense. A report which charged the cases of 141 people arrested for cannabis possession in Lambeth last year found that the average fine was only £45 and nearly a quarter were given a conditional discharge."
The Economist noted, "One of the key targets in the ten-year national drug strategy is that heroin and cocaine availability should be reduced by 2008. Yet the average price of cocaine in Britain has fallen by 20% over a decade and that of heroin has fallen by up to 40% while purity has increased. The government's previous hard line has not persuaded Britons to cut down. More people use cannabis in Britain than in the Netherlands, which has the most liberal policies on drug use in Europe. The Netherlands also has a much lower rate of drug-related deaths -- 2.4 per million people, compared with Britain's 31. And whereas in Britain the average age of heroin addicts is 25 and falling, in Amsterdam it has now risen to 36."
In light of the UK's new policy, the news that the UK's customs service will ease up on cannabis in order to concentrate on hard drugs and is not surprising. According to The Observer on June 8, 2001 ( "Police End Cannabis Seizures"), "Britain is to abandon the hunt for cannabis smugglers and dealers in the most dramatic relaxation of policy on the drug so far. Instead the Government has told law enforcement officers, including Customs officials and police, to target resources on 'hard drugs', such as heroin and cocaine. Under the new strategy -- part of the most radical shift in drugs policy for a generation -- large-scale cannabis seizures and prosecutions will now take place only as a by-product of investigations into Class A drugs."
The Observer noted that "The decision to give up hunting cannabis traffickers was taken by the Cabinet Office Committee, Concerted Inter-Agency Drugs Action (Cida). It consists of the heads of MI6, MI5, the Customs and Excise investigation branch, the National Criminal Intelligence Service, the police National Crime Squad, and the Association of Chief Police Officers, plus the permanent under-secretaries of the Home Office, Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence. 'It's not that we plan to stop seizing cannabis when we come across it,' one senior Customs source said last night. 'However, the need to focus on Class A drugs means cannabis seizures will now take place as a by-product, not as an end in themselves.'"
United Kingdom Moving Toward Reform Of Cannabis? Home Secretary Open To Debate, Poll Shows Public Support For Move
Cannabis legalization is coming closer to reality in the United Kingdom. Several leaders in the opposition Conservative ("Tory") party have already started to express their support for repeal of cannabis prohibition. Now the ruling Labour party has weighed in. England's Home Secretary, David Blunkett, has issued a call for open debate into marijuana policy reform. The Guardian (UK) reported on July 9, 2001 ( "Blunkett Calls For Drug Debate") that "Home secretary David Blunkett yesterday opened the government's mind to the possible decriminalisation of cannabis by calling for an intelligent debate on the issue. His remarks were welcomed by campaigners for legalisation who claimed they represented a marked shift in tone from that of his predecessor, Jack Straw."
Blunkett's statement comes on the heels of a call for legalization by the outgoing chief inspector of prisons for England and Wales. Sir David Ramsbotham told the BBC on July 9, 2001 ( "Prison Boss Calls For Drugs Legalisation") that "'The more I think about it and the more I look at what's happening, the more I can see the logic of legalising drugs, because the misery that is caused by the people who are making criminal profit is so appalling and the sums are so great that are being made illegally.'" According to the BBC, "Sir David, who retires on 1 August, said legalisation would reduce crime motivated by the need to buy drugs."
The BBC report noted that "Two former home secretaries, Liberal Democrat Lord Jenkins of Hillhead and the Tory, Lord Baker of Dorking, told the Sunday Times they favoured decriminalisation. And an opinion poll for the Independent on Sunday found resistance to the legalisation of cannabis wavering." The Independent reported their poll results somewhat differently in their story of July 8, 2001, "Poll Reveals Demand For Legalization": "The survey, by NOP Research, shows that almost half the British people -- 49 per cent -- are in favour of legalising cannabis or have no strong views against it. A narrow majority -- 51 per cent -- still opposes legalisation, but they are mainly among the over 55s, an indication that opinion is likely to move further in favour of lifting the ban in the coming years. A total of 39 percent want legalisation now. The figures are in marked contrast to the last time NOP conducted such a poll, in 1996, when 66 per cent said 'no' and only 26 per cent supported legalisation."
UK Tory Leadership Contenders Call For Discussion Of Cannabis Legalization
The Observer reported on June 23, 2001 ( "Tory Hopefuls Break Party Line On Cannabis") that "Three of the leading contenders for the Tory leadership last night broke with the party's traditional hardline opposition to drugs by calling for a major debate on the legalisation of cannabis." According to The Observer, "The new twist in the Tory contest not only turns the party's drugs policy upside down but poses a serious challenge to Tony Blair, with Labour now the only party resisting even discussing a change in the law."
Jamaican Government Commission Considers Decriminalizing Marijuana; US Pressure May Keep Recommendation Out Of Report
Jamaica's National Commission on Ganja has been examining the island's marijuana policy and possible reforms, according to a report in the Eugene, OR Register-Guard on June 4, 2001 ( "Jamaica Considers Legalizing Marijuana"). According to the Register-Guard, "Led by the dean of social sciences at Kingston's University of the West Indies, the seven-member commission has heard from more than 150 people and institutions ranging from the Medical Association of Jamaica to the Rastafarian Centralization Organization, and it has sounded out more than a dozen communities nationwide. This month, the official body will present its final recommendation on whether marijuana should be decriminalized here."
According to the story, Commission Chairman Barry Chevannes "said the commission seriously is considering the 'external consequences' of its recommendations. Beyond a potential US condemnation, they include a possible snowball effect on other marijuana-producing Caribbean islands that have considered decriminalizing the plant in the past."
UK House Of Lords Committee Urges Legal Medical Marijuana
The UK House of Lords on March 14, 2001, published its "Science and Technology - Second Report" on the Therapeutic Uses Of Cannabis from the Lords' Select Committee On Science and Technology. The Lords, after a comprehensive review of available data and the health and legal policies involved, endorsed legalization of medical marijuana, and gave their support to further research into its applications. The Lords report states, "We consider it undesirable to prosecute genuine therapeutic users of cannabis who possess or grow cannabis for their own use. This unsatisfactory situation underlines the need to legalise cannabis preparations for therapeutic use."
United Kingdom Relaxes Cannabis Laws As House Of Lords Committee Calls For Legal Medical Marijuana
Criminal records will be essentially wiped clean for thousands of people in the UK who had been "cautioned" for minor drug offenses. The Times of London reports that this softening of cannabis laws will be "particularly important to thousands of young people," including William Straw, the son of Home Secretary Jack Straw who had been cautioned in 1998 after admitting selling cannabis to a journalist.
The Independent of London reports that "Viscountess Runciman of Doxford, lead author of the Police Foundation report, said she was pleased the Government had recognised the importance of removing the stigma from cannabis cautions, but was 'disappointed' that ministers had rejected most of its 81 recommendations, including the removal of custodial sentences for cannabis, ecstasy and LSD possession."