Pubdate: Mon, 25 Jun 2001
Source: Guardian, The (UK)
Copyright: 2001 Guardian Newspapers Limited
Author:  Rebecca Allison


The home secretary, David Blunkett, yesterday gave a cautious welcome to a 
controversial pilot scheme which will allow police in south London to adopt 
a more relaxed attitude to cannabis possession.

Offering limited support to the initiative which will see anyone caught 
with cannabis given a warning rather than being formally cautioned or 
arrested, Mr Blunkett said: "I am interested in the experiment."

He did not rule out the possibility of the scheme, which is due to start in 
Lambeth next month, being extended nationwide if it proves a success.

The idea of formally adopting a less punitive attitude to cannabis was 
first raised by Commander Brian Paddick, who is in charge of policing in 
Lambeth, an area that includes high crime and drug dealing areas such as 

The idea is to free up uniformed officers so that they can tackle more 
serious crimes. Anyone caught in possession of cannabis will have their 
drugs confiscated and a warning is recorded only by local police. It would 
not have to be declared by someone applying for a job.

Mr Blunkett told BBC1's Breakfast With Frost that he had visited the 
command unit in Lambeth after the election and felt the plan was completely 
in line with the government's crime prevention strategy.

"This fits in entirely with the emphasis on placing absolute priority on 
class A drugs - on both the trafficking in drugs and people and weaponry, 
and on concentrating police resources where they are needed most," he said.

The Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, Simon Hughes, later welcomed 
the home secretary's "pragmatic response".

"Catching more big-time drugs dealers and middlemen is hundreds of times 
more useful than nicking people with soft drugs for their own use."

Mr Blunkett's comments on the Lambeth initiative came ahead of the 
international conference on the Global Economy of Illegal Drugs being 
hosted by the government in London today.

The two-day event will focus on four areas in the supply of illegal drugs: 
combating illegal trade; large scale cultivation and production of drugs; 
middle markets; and the corrosive effects of the drugs industry.

He also used the interview with David Frost to highlight his concerns over 
the granting of bail to serious violent of fenders and urged courts to take 
a tougher line.

He said it was frustrating for the police to see serious offenders granted 
bail where they have committed a racist, sexual or deeply violent crime and 
have been identified by CCTV surveillance.

"We need to make sure that when police have done their job they are not 
demoralised and disheartened by finding that people are immediately 
released to continue committing the very crimes that have been identified," 
he said.
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