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04/02/2008 00:00:00

UK: The Drug Laws Don't Work

The real 'softies' are the politicians who refuse to engage in a sober
debate on cannabis.

Fifty years ago, Lenny Bruce, the American comedian who was pursued
relentlessly by the police for his drug use, remarked that cannabis
would be legal soon, "because the many law students who now smoke pot
will some day become congressmen and legalise it in order to protect
themselves". Since then we have had at least two US presidents and
countless congressmen who have used drugs, but changes in the punitive
US drugs laws seem as remote as ever.

In Britain, many cabinet and shadow cabinet members have admitted to
using cannabis but, rather than relaxing the laws concerning the drug,
they are planning to tighten them. Today the Advisory Council on the
Misuse of Drugs is due to hear evidence on whether or not cannabis
should be reclassified from class C up to class B. The council
considered this issue in 2005 and concluded then that "although cannabis
is unquestionably harmful, its harmfulness does not equate to that of
other Class B substances either at the level of the individual or of

This time the hearings are pointless. Gordon Brown and the home
secretary, Jacqui Smith, have already indicated that they are minded to
reclassify the drug upwards, whatever the council has to say. Brown has
said that "drugs are never going to be decriminalised". The received
wisdom, inside the cabinet and among much of the media, is that it was
an error on the part of the then home secretary, David Blunkett, to
reclassify cannabis down from B to C in 2004, because it "sent the wrong
message". And the increased strength of hydroponically grown skunk is
cited as one reason for the change. The sunny climate in which Rosie
Boycott launched a legalise cannabis campaign in the Independent on
Sunday in 1997 has clouded over. The IoS itself has recanted and issued
an apology.

There is no dispute that cannabis can cause significant harm. Teenagers,
heavy users and those with a predisposition to mental health problems
are at risk. No one denies that. Transform, one of the most rational of
the organisations monitoring UK drug laws, will be submitting evidence
to the advisory council, saying that "the fact that [cannabis] is
produced and supplied via a profit-driven underground criminal market
has been the driver for the increasing prevalence of more potent
strains, which deliver increased profit-to-weight ratios".

Some senior former police officers, like Tom Lloyd, former chief
constable of Cambridge, have also argued for a change in the laws. "This
is about taking the control of drugs in this country out of the hands of
criminals and into the hands of responsible authorities," Lloyd has
said. Many still in the police privately agree.

But it would take a brave politician to suggest a sober debate on
cannabis, let alone the whole basis of the drug laws. The Lib Dems and
the Green party still favour that debate. The former's policy is to seek
"to put the supply of cannabis on a legal, regulated basis, subject to
securing necessary renegotiation of the UN conventions". It opposes the
government's decision to reclassify regardless of what the ACMD has to say.

But what of the two main parties? Shadow cabinet member Alan Duncan
wrote in the book Saturn's Children that "logic suggests that the only
completely effective way to ameliorate the problem, and especially the
crime which results from it, is to bring the industry into the open by
legalising the distribution and consumption of all dangerous drugs, or
at the very least decriminalising their consumption". In 2002, the home
affairs committee examining drugs policy recommended that "the
government initiates a discussion within the Commission on Narcotic
Drugs of alternative ways - including the possibility of legalisation
and regulation - to tackle the global drugs dilemma". David Cameron was
a member of that committee. But this is not Conservative policy now, nor
will the party dare to offer it for debate for fear of being called soft
on drugs. It now backs the government on reclassification.

It is time for politicians to take a deep breath and say in public what
many say in private: that the drug laws are not working, that the
illegal trade is responsible for much of our most corrosive crime, and
that it is time to have a debate nationally and internationally about
addressing the catastrophic effects of prohibition. Reclassifying
cannabis upwards is a grandstand gesture with no relevance to those
whose lives are damaged by drugs or by the drug laws that compound and
exacerbate that damage. The country does face an urgent addiction
problem. But the name of our addiction problem is alcohol. If the
government wants to send messages, the first message should be in a bottle.

The real "softies" when it comes to drugs are the politicians who refuse
to engage in debate for fear of being called soft on drugs. So now,
instead of that debate, we appear to be heading towards Reefer Madness II.,,2252003,00.html

Author: via UKCIA

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