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MPs support plans for radical new laws on drugs

By Hempology | April 15, 2002

From THE GUARDIAN WEEKLY, April 4th, 2002

By Patrick Wintour

The last obstacle to the relaxtion of Britain’s cannabis laws will be cleared
this month when the Commons home affairs select committee backs plans by the
Home Secretary, David Blunkett, to downgrade the classification of the drug,
the Guardian has learned.

The all-party committee of MPs has looked at a first draft of the report and is
also likely to call for radical measures to improve the treatment of heroin users,
including wider prescription by family doctors and more use of diamorphine (medical
heroin) to help control the chaotic multi-drug user.

The committee has been stuck by overwhelming evidence that Britian’s crime crisis has
been fueled by the use of hard drugs, especially heroin and crack cocaine, by a small
minority of addicts.

Mr Blunkett has said he will only proceed with the reclassification of cannabis if the
committee endorses that proposal. He is also awaiting Metropolitan Police reports on an
extended trial in south London, where police resources have been directed towards hard
drug users rather than cannabis possession. The Met islikely to back the scheme, despite
resistance from the Police Federation.

The home affairs select committee, which has yet yo vote on key recommendations, is
lining up behind a reclassification of cannabis from a class B drug to class C.

It will either reccomend a new offence of possession with intent to supply commercially,
or simply propose abolition of intent to supply altogether. A third option is to reccomend that
the Home Office set clear guidelines to courts on the amount of drugs an individual would
have to possess to be charged with intent to supply.

Either way, possession below these levels would only lead to confiscation and a simple police
written warning, so diverting court and police time to fight hard drugs.

Arrests for the possession of cannabis rose from 14,857 to 22,303 between 1996 and 2000. However,
arrests for supplying or offering cannabis fell in that period from 1,559 to 1,001.

Mr Blunkett announce the government’s proposal to reclassify cannabis when he gave evidence to
the select committee last October, overturning years of establishment resistance. Since then,
the advisory council on the misuse of drugs has rejected suggestions that cannabis is a gateway
to harder drugs. Most of the select committee members, including some Tories, will endorse the
advisory council’s position.

The committee is likely to back the trend toewards greater spending on drug treatment in the face of
evidence that the £1 spent on treatment saves £3 in terms of crime.

The MPs are expectesd to reject extreme demands for the legalisation of heroin, but favour
schemes in parts of Germany and the Netherlands that allow registered long-term heroin users
access to the drug, either in special centres or in the community.

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