Pubdate: Sun, 19 May 2002
Source: Sunday Telegraph (UK)
Copyright: Telegraph Group Limited 2002
Author: David Bamber, Home Affairs Correspondent
Bookmark: (Ecstasy)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


A group of senior MPs will call this week for ecstasy, which claims the 
lives of up to 50 people in Britain every year, to be downgraded to a class 
B drug.

The controversial move would reduce the maximum penalty for supplying the 
drug - currently life in prison - to just 14 years.

The Home Affairs Select Committee's long-awaited report on drugs, to be 
published on Wednesday, will call for ecstasy, which is a class A drug 
along with heroin and cocaine, to be downgraded to the same category as 
less harmful drugs such as cannabis and amphetamines.

The proposal was condemned last night by the parents of Leah Betts, who 
died after taking ecstasy on her 18th birthday in 1995. They said the move 
would lead to hundreds more deaths and brain damage to young people. Paul 
Betts, a former Metropolitan police officer, said: "This will send out all 
the wrong signals to young people that ecstasy is a safe drug when even the 
Government's own figures shows it kills up to 50 people every year.

"Ecstasy can kill and in America it is becoming known as 'suicide Tuesday' 
because so many people kill themselves as they come off the drug after the 
weekend. It will be a very dangerous move to reclassify ecstasy, we will 
see more young people in psychiatric wards and ruined for life."

Oliver Letwin, the shadow home secretary, also opposed the 
reclassification. "This drug can kill," he said.

A member of the committee, however, defended the proposal. The MP, who 
wished to remain anonymous, said: "The police must concentrate on the drugs 
that do the most serious harm such as heroin and cocaine. Seizing this drug 
and cracking down on the dealers is the most important job that we can do.

"Ecstasy will remain illegal but we have to face facts. About half a 
million people take ecstasy every week in Britain, so the current law isn't 

The recommendation was prompted by drugs charities, who told the committee 
that Government policies would not be credible in the eyes of the young 
while ecstasy remained in the highest category of illegal substances.

The reclassification of ecstasy from a class A to a class B drug was first 
recommended in a landmark report on Britain's drug laws produced for the 
Police Foundation, chaired by Dame Ruth Runciman, in 2000.

It is unlikely, however, that David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, will back 
the change. A spokesman for the Home Office said: "He cannot see a time 
when the laws on ecstasy could be relaxed."

The committee's report will, however, support a suggestion by Mr Blunkett 
that cannabis be downgraded from a class B to class C drug, making 
possession a non-arrestable offence.
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