Pubdate: Wed, 22 May 2002
Source: Independent  (UK)
Copyright: 2002 Independent Newspapers (UK) Ltd.
Author: Ian Burrell


A powerful House of Commons committee will deliver a damaging verdict today 
on the Government's track record in tackling drugs by publishing a report 
that calls for ministers to rethink fundamentally the way they approach the 

Politicians, senior police officers, Customs chiefs, doctors and drug 
charities all face scathing criticism for failing to stop drug use in 
Britain rising to the highest levels in Europe.

The report by the Home Affairs Select Committee, which follows a 10-month 
inquiry, attacks the Government's much-vaunted national strategy on drugs, 
which aims to cutdrug use and the availability of illegal substances by 25 
per cent, and increase treatment of addicts by 55 per cent.

The report notes: "The targets have been criticised for being unmeasurable 
and insufficiently grounded in evidence ... it is unwise, not to say 
self-defeating, to set targets which have no earthly chance of success." 
The MPs call on ministers to concentrate efforts on 250,000 "problematic 
users" and to focus policy on harm reduction and education.

In a damning criticism of efforts to reduce supply, they said: "It remains 
an unhappy fact that the best efforts of police and Customs have had 
little, if any, impact on the availability of illegal drugs and this is 
reflected in the prices on the street, which are as low as they have ever 
been.The best that can be said, and the evidence for this is shaky, is that 
we have succeeded in containing the problem." The committee added: "Harm 
reduction rather than retribution should be the primary focus of policy".

The chairman, Chris Mullin, said: "The criminal law should be reserved 
primarily for dealers."

Calling for "a major shake-up" of drugs policy, the MPs make 24 
recommendations, including calls for legalised heroin "shooting galleries" 
as in Switzerland and the Netherlands, and downgrading cannabis to a class 
C drug, and ecstasy to class B.

It also calls for the repeal of laws that leave drugs treatment workers 
open to charges if addicts use drugs on their premises or are provided with 
equipment intended to reduce health risks.

The Home Secretary, David Blunkett, has already proposed softening the law 
on cannabis and will now press ahead with the change before the recess in July.

But he reacted angrily to some proposals, particularly that the law on 
ecstasy should be relaxed. He said: "Ecstasy can, and does, kill 
unpredictably and there is no such thing as a safe dose. I believe it 
should remain class A. Reclassification of ecstasy is not on the 
Government's agenda." Mr Blunkett admitted the report was "very thorough 
and thought-provoking" but said he had "no plans for injecting rooms".

Ministers have been nervously awaiting the report, entitled The 
Government's Drugs Policy: Is It Working? In an effort to appear proactive, 
the Government has launched initiatives that coincide with publication of 
the report, including the announcement yesterday of tougher penalties for 
drug dealers operating close to schools and plans for a hard-hitting drugs 
education video for schools, featuring the story of Rachel Whitear, a 
21-year-old student found dead from a heroin overdose.

The MPs' criticisms are also directed at family doctors, who it said were 
"inadequately trained to deal with drug misuse".

Drugs education workers are attacked for including "ambiguous messages" in 
material which "crosses the line between providing accurate information and 
encouraging young people to experiment with illegal drugs".

Roger Howard, the chief executive of the charity DrugScope, described the 
Home Affairs committee's report as "a well-balanced and well-evidenced 
report which presents pragmatic solutions to current problems".
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