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Sent: Sunday, July 08, 2001 2:15 PM
Subject: Special Report: Drugs in Britain; Police End Cannabis Seizures
Special report: drugs in Britain
Police end cannabis seizures
New effort to halt tide of hard drugs
David Rose, Anthony Browne & Faisal Islam/The Observer
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
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.
Last week with the blessing of Home Secretary David Blunkett, police in
Brixton, south London, abandoned their policy of prosecuting people found
with small amounts of the drug.
The relaxation comes as the law on possession of cannabis faces its most
serious legal challenge. The civil rights group Liberty will argue in court
tomorrow that it is incompatible with the new Human Rights Act.
The campaign to legalise cannabis gained further momentum yesterday as Clive
Bates, director of the government-funded anti-smoking group Ash, argued for
the legalisation of the drug.
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
'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.'
Customs sources say the shift is seen as an 'inevitable consequence' of the
Government's drug strategy, which sets agencies the target of reducing Class
A drug consumption by half by 2008.
'Overall, the Government strategy is about reducing harm,' one chief police
officer said. 'That has to mean placing a priority in reducing the supply of
Class A drugs.'
He said regional drug distributors often 'blurred the boundaries'
betweendrugs, so that inquiries into cocaine and heroin dealers might also
yield finds of cannabis.
The focus on hard drugs was partly triggered by the first figures for UK
consumption of cocaine and heroin, which show Britons are now consuming
twice as much cocaine as the previous official estimates for the whole of
The figures, from a Home Office research project, show that last year
British hard drug users took 28,000-36,000kg of heroin and 35,000-41,000 kg
Cannabis was in effect decriminalised in Brixton last week, when police said
they would no longer prosecute people caught with the drug but give them a
verbal telling-off. Last year the Government said that having a caution for
possessing cannabis would no longer carry a criminal record for life.
The Misuse of Drugs Act, which in 2000 led to 96,000 prosecutions against
cannabis users, will be challenged in Southwark Crown Court this week when
Liberty will claim it is incompatible with the Human Rights Act.
Liberty will be defending Jerry Ham, former director and founder of a
homelessness charity, who has been charged with possession of small amount
of cannabis. If Liberty is successful, it could make the law unenforceable
The relaxation of policy on cannabis follows changing public attitudes to
the drug. This weekend senior Tory MP Alan Duncan supported Peter Lilley,
the former deputy leader of the Conservative Party, who called for the
legalisation of sale of the drug in licensed outlets.
Ash director Clive Bates said: 'We would legalise cannabis in its
non-smokable forms, such as in cakes, tea or droplets. There's irrationality
and inconsistency in the policy on tobacco, soft and hard drugs. Even if you
legalised cannabis in its smokeable forms you couldn't come close to the
harm done by cigarettes, because no one smokes 20 joints a day.'
Guardian Unlimited Guardian Newspapers Limited 2001
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