Pubdate: Thu, 11 Jul 2002
Source: Daily Telegraph (UK)
Copyright: 2002 Telegraph Group Limited
Bookmark: (Cannabis - United Kingdom)


Opinion is divided on whether Keith Hellawell, the former West Yorkshire
chief constable, was much good as the Government's "drugs tsar", but he
certainly timed yesterday's announcement of his resignation to perfection.
He was off, he said, because he could not accept the Home Secretary's
decision to downgrade the penalties for possession of cannabis and he was
fed up with government spin. Whatever one thinks of Mr Hellawell, his
bombshell holed the formal unveiling of the new policy and made David
Blunkett look foolish on his big day.

Even without Mr Hellawell's intervention, the Home Secretary could have
expected a rough ride over his new policy. The Telegraph has argued for more
than two years that the prohibition of cannabis clearly is not working. As
it is the least dangerous of the drugs that are generally used, we have
suggested that it should be legalised for a trial period. In itself, Mr
Blunkett's decision to recategorise cannabis as a Class C drug is a step in
that direction. But, as with the Government's earlier support for the police
experiment in Brixton, where cannabis users have not been arrested for the
past year, its thinking remains worryingly muddled.

Many observers have said that the reclassification of cannabis would
effectively decriminalise the drug, but it will do no such thing. Possession
will remain an offence, albeit a minor one. More to the point, dealing in
cannabis will remain a serious offence, and continue to be punishable by up
to 14 years in prison. This is not just illogical: it could well prove

One of the main reasons why The Telegraph advocated the experimental
legalisation of cannabis was in order to remove a source of enrichment from
the criminal gangs that control much of the trade in it. But under the
Blunkett plan, this will not happen - if anything the opposite. By singling
out Brixton as the "cannabis zone", the authorities sent the signal that, if
you wanted a spliff, that is where you should head for. The drug-dealing
fraternity naturally then followed the market, and took control of the
streets that the police had relinquished. Local people were understandably

The glaring deficiency of the new policy is that it risks repeating this
mistake, first in London, then across the country. The restraints on the use
of cannabis will be loosened, but the trade in it will be left to the
criminals, who will doubtless redouble their marketing efforts to take
advantage of the new dispensation and sell worse drugs, too. The proper
legalisation of cannabis would mean that its sellers would themselves be
legal, licensed and therefore controlled. They wouldn't be crooks lurking on
street corners, but known shopkeepers, like pharmacists or tobacconists. By
refusing to legalise cannabis properly and maintaining the penalties for
dealing in it, the Home Secretary wants us to think that he has not gone
soft on drugs.

At the same time, by making possession no longer an arrestable offence, he
hopes to present himself as generally progressive while reducing the
workload on the police. Not for the first time, Mr Blunkett is trying to get
the best of both worlds. Unfortunately, he seems much more likely to end up
with the worst.
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