Pubdate: Wed, 24 Oct 2001
Source: Guardian, The (UK)
Copyright: 2001 Guardian Newspapers Limited


Reducing Harm Is The Right Drug Target

Three important changes to make our anti-drugs laws more coherent and less 
contradictory were signalled yesterday.

Belatedly, Labour has begun to recognise the damage which current laws on 
the misuse of drugs are wreaking.

Where Jack Straw refused to tread, David Blunkett has boldly moved.

Cannabis is to be downgraded from B to C class, making it a minor 
non-arrestable offence. He also signalled his support for wider use of 
cannabis for medicinal purposes.

Thirdly, and most boldly, he will promote wider use of prescribing for 
heroin addicts.

The reclassification of cannabis is not just an issue for the chattering 

It will affect tens of thousands of young people across all classes.

He need have no fear of protests from either the public or police.

Opinion polls show widespread public support: 60% believe cannabis should 
no longer be treated as a criminal offence and 99% place arrests for 
cannabis possession in the lowest police priority. Public criticism does 
not stop there.

Parents are acutely aware that a war on drugs, while cannabis is still 
illegal, is a war on their children.

Up to 50% try the drug. There were at least 2.5m users last year. Police 
chiefs have a different objection: the diversion of police time. Of 300,000 
people stopped and searched in an average year, 90,000 are found to be in 
possession of cannabis. It takes one police officer at least three hours to 
process the paperwork for each of these arrests.

Where Mr Blunkett falls short is in failing to downgrade LSD and Ecstasy 
from A to B class, as recommended last year by the Police Foundation's 
national commission, and rejecting its suggestion that possession of B and 
C drugs should be made non-imprisonable. The reason was pragmatic: prison 
does far more harm than good.

The main conclusion of the commission was that the 30-year-old law on drugs 
misuse, which was passed to categorise drugs by harmfulness, no longer 
reflected scientific, medical or sociological findings.

They liked the framework but sensibly wanted the classification to be based 
on the latest evidence, rather than outdated prejudices.

The goal was a reduction in harm. The new move on heroin is in line with 
this aim.

Heroin was once widely prescribed by GPs, which meant there was little 
business for drug dealers and ensured addicts received uncontaminated drugs.

The home secretary is right to try and restore the old order.

It was safer and more humane.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom