Pubdate: Tue, 23 Apr 2002
Source: Evening News (UK)
Copyright: Eastern Counties Newspapers Group Ltd,2002
Author: Jane Hamilton, Crime Reporter


THE possession of small amounts of cannabis should be legalised and being 
caught with cocaine or heroin should not automatically mean jail, according 
to a former head of Lothian's drugs squad.

Superintendent Jinty Kerr - the first woman to run a drugs squad in 
Scotland - said allowing people to have cannabis for personal use would 
allow the police to target drug dealers.

And simply throwing people into prison because they are using class A 
drugs, such as cocaine and heroin, is not the way to solve the country's 
drugs problems, she said.

Supt Kerr's comments come as the Home Secretary David Blunkett prepares to 
downgrade cannabis to a class C drug, meaning possession would no longer be 
an arrestable offence.

They also follow a public call by the force's Chief Constable, Paddy 
Tomkins, for a more mature public debate about the policing of illegal drugs.

Scotland's anti-drug abuse agency, Scotland Against Drugs, and MSP Margo 
MacDonald today supported Supt Kerr's right to express her views on the issue.

The officer told BBC Radio Scotland yesterday that police involved in the 
fight against drugs are trying to tackle "a problem that has been around a 
long time" and one that is "unlikely to go away".

Asked by interviewer Gary Robertson whether police were "beating their 
heads against a brick wall" in trying to contain the country's drugs 
problems, she said: "Basically you are, drugs have been around a long time 
and I don't think you are ever going to get away from that.

"I think it's a case of adopting policies that are sensible." The 
53-year-old made her personal views on drugs issues public as she prepares 
to retire from the Lothian and Borders force after 34 years in June.

Supt Kerr, who also worked in Wester Hailes, one of the city's worst areas 
for drug misuse, said she had learned a huge amount about illegal 
substances and attempts to control their use during her time with the force 
in Edinburgh.

And she said she had become clear in her own mind what she thought 
politicians should be doing when it came to tackling the issue.

"They should be thinking about legalising the personal possession of cannabis.

"It's not the person taking the drugs, it's the dealers they want to catch, 
but this is a personal view and is definitely not a police view," she said.

The matter of possession of cocaine and heroin was also not 
straightforward, she added, pointing out that both drugs are legally 
prescribed as painkillers.

But she added: "They are used illegally, and to great detriment to people 
who take them, but we have got to find different ways of intervening with 
the problem.

"Just saying lock people up won't do it because we don't have places in the 

Supt Kerr's comments received a cautious welcome from Alistair Ramsay, the 
director of Scotland against Drugs.

"People need to be absolutely clear that their views are personal ones and 
should feel free to express them. But they must be careful that their 
comments do not lead to further confusion in a debate that is already 

Mr Ramsay said the Scottish Executive had taken great care with their Know 
The Score Campaign to ensure the right information reached the right people.

Ms MacDonald welcomed Supt Kerr's comments but added she regretted the 
police officer was making her comments as she left the force. "I only hope 
she finds a way of using her experience and obvious good sense and feeds it 
into developing policies on coping with drugs," she said.

Ms MacDonald said people in influential professions such as lawyers, 
doctors and police officers had often privately expressed the same point of 
view, but many people are afraid to speak out because they are "unwilling 
to square up to the fact that we have to learn to live with drugs".

She said there was still time to work out a "realistic and radical" policy 
before the autumn when Home Secretary David Blunkett is expected to 
announce changes in the law regarding cannabis.

Mr Blunkett unveiled plans last October to reclassify cannabis as a class C 
drug, which would mean possession would not be an arrestable offence. It 
would, however, remain illegal to own any amount of cannabis, likely to 
result in personal users caught in possession being given a police caution.

Lothian and Borders Chief Constable Paddy Tomkins spoke out on the drugs 
debate in January, just weeks after he took up the post with the force.

Mr Tomkins called for a more open debate about the use of cannabis and 
other illegal drugs.
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