Pubdate: Sat, 19 Oct 2002
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Page: Page A21
Copyright: 2002 The Washington Post Company
Author: Paul Armentano
Note: The writer is a senior policy analyst for the National Organization 
for the Reform of Marijuana Laws


Asa Hutchinson's mischaracterization of Britain's marijuana
decriminalization pilot program in the Lambeth borough of south London
["Drug Legalization Doesn't Work," op-ed, Oct. 9] is as disturbing as
it is inaccurate. The fact that British police and politicians
ultimately agreed to extend the Lambeth model nationwide speaks to the
overwhelming success of cannabis decriminalization.

Under the Lambeth scheme, which was implemented last fall at the
behest of British law enforcement, police "cautioned" rather than
arrested minor marijuana offenders. Contrary to Hutchinson's
allegations, street crime fell in Lambeth by nearly 50 percent during
this program. Violent crime also fell dramatically under
decriminalization. According to the BBC, robberies in the borough fell
18 percent during the first half of 2002 -- the largest reported
decrease in England.

Regardless of Hutchinson's impressions, the evidence dictates that
marijuana decriminalization makes for safer streets. Additional
statistics from Lambeth are equally telling. According to the British
Home Office, arrests for hard drugs and drug trafficking increased
nearly 20 percent under the pilot scheme. This increase was not
because of an overall jump in hard drug use but because police had
shifted their focus from marijuana to prosecuting more serious drug
crimes. The Home Office further found that cautioning small-time pot
users freed an estimated 1,300 hours in police time -- time the police
used to better protect the public by targeting robbers, hard-drug
dealers and other serious criminals.

Had the Lambeth experiment not been so successful, Parliament would no
doubt be champing at the bit to drastically increase England's
marijuana penalties rather than reduce them. Instead, British
policymakers are wisely choosing to join fellow European Union
neighbors such as Italy, Spain, Portugal, Belgium and the Netherlands
and eliminate criminal penalties for the possession of marijuana for
personal use. Rather than maligning this European trend, Hutchinson
and other federal drug warriors should be learning from its success.

Paul Armentano

The writer is a senior policy analyst for the National Organization for the 
Reform of Marijuana Laws.
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