Pubdate: Thu, 11 Jul 2002
Source: Inquirer (PA)
Copyright: 2002 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc
Author: T. R. Reid, Washington Post
Bookmark: (Cannabis - United Kingdom)


LONDON - Joining other European countries' more tolerant approach
toward drug use, the British government said yesterday that it would
effectively decriminalize the possession and use of marijuana.

Home Secretary David Blunkett told Parliament that police would no
longer arrest people smoking cannabis, as the drug is known here.
Possession of a supply of the drug for personal use will also be
ignored. Cannabis will still be considered an illegal drug, however,
and selling it will remain an arrestable offense.

Blunkett and his boss, Prime Minister Tony Blair, defended the policy
change, arguing that it would give the police more time and resources
to go after violent crime and the use of hard drugs such as heroin.

"Making a clearer differentiation between drugs that kill and drugs
that do not would be scientifically appropriate and educationally
valuable," Blunkett said. He promised an increase in drug-education

"The message is clear - drugs are dangerous," he said. "We will
educate, persuade, and, where necessary, direct young people away from
their use."

The new policy stems from a successful experiment begun last year in
Brixton, a South London neighborhood. The local police chief declared
that arresting for marijuana was a "waste of time," and ordered his
police to bypass pot smokers and focus on hard drugs.

Today, young people routinely light up on the sidewalk in front of
Brixton's police station. You can buy a marijuana cigarette just
outside Brixton's subway station for less than $5.

In an assessment this spring, the Association of Chief Police Officers
praised the Brixton experiment and urged that the same approach be
taken nationwide.

Blunkett said he would institute that change as of next summer. He
emphasized that cannabis would remain technically illegal, and he said
he would create a new crime of "aggravated possession" so that police
could move against repeat offenders.

By telling its police to look the other way when they come upon a
marijuana user, Britain has joined most other European nations. The
Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and Belgium are among the nations
that have decriminalized marijuana and so-called party drugs such as
ecstasy. However, a political coalition in the Netherlands, due to
come to office later this month, yesterday announced plans to tighten
some drug laws.

The newest trend in Western Europe is to decriminalize all drugs,
including heroin and cocaine, treating drug use as a health problem
rather than a crime. Portugal, Luxemburg, Spain and Italy have taken
this approach in varying degrees.

Georges Estievenart, director of the European Union's Monitoring
Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction, said: "The general trend across
Europe is an approach that focuses on the traffickers and does not
pursue the drug user as a criminal. The premise is that it is not in
the interest of society to put these people in jail, where they don't
get treatment but do get fairly easy access to all kinds of drugs."

Blunkett's new marijuana policy, known here as the "softly, softly"
approach, will be enacted into law because Blair's Labor Party has an
unbeatable majority in Parliament.

But the chief opposition party, the Conservatives, opposed the change.
Conservative member Oliver Letwin told Parliament that the new policy
was "muddled and dangerous." He said it was "impossible to reconcile"
how it could be legal to own and use marijuana, but illegal to sell
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