Pubdate: Sun, 11 Nov 2001
Source: Observer, The (UK)
Copyright: 2001 The Observer
Author: Nick Paton Walsh
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


Cannabis should be sold at licensed outlets such as pubs, cafes and shops, 
according to a confidential survey of police forces, courts, probation 
officers and drug care workers. Eighty-one per cent of the 300 groups 
surveyed said that a system of licensed distribution should be introduced 
as soon as possible.

The lawful sale of cannabis is seen by campaigners as the next step in 
liberalising the drug after its reclassification as a class C substance, 
announced last month by Home Secretary David Blunkett.

The survey, conducted among the members of the government-backed charity 
DrugScope, will ignite fierce controversy. Anti-drug campaigners are 
furious at the increasingly relaxed attitude of police towards the drug. A 
licensing system would cover cafes and pubs, and GPs would be able to 
prescribe the drug.

The results of the survey will next week be put before the home affairs 
select committee inquiry into drugs, acting as a powerful indication to MPs 
of how law enforcement bodies privately feel about the threat cannabis causes.

Police have long argued that the pursuit of users detracts from the fight 
against organised criminals who engineer the drug's supply. Roger Howard, 
chief executive of DrugScope and a member of Blunkett's influential 
advisory committee, said: 'buying cannabis will still lead people into 
transactions with organised crime and drug dealers who may also be selling 
other more harmful drugs.'

But anti-drug groups warn that one in four users goes on to try harder 
drugs. Peter Stroker, director of the National Drug Prevention Alliance, 
said: 'Where [eased availability] has been tried... use of the substance 
has increased. Nobody seems to be talking about the vulnerable group of 
under-18s who take up cannabis. They now have access to tobacco and alcohol 
with relative impunity, and to suggest an age limit would stop this 
happening with cannabis is not just myopic, it is cynical.'
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