Pubdate: Thu, 29 Nov 2007
Source: Evening Standard (London, UK)
Copyright: 2007 Associated Newspapers Ltd.
Bookmark: (Cannabis - United Kingdom)
Bookmark: (Ecstasy)
Bookmark: (Heroin)


The killer drug ecstasy could be downgraded to Class B within months -
forcing the courts to take a softer line against dealers and users.

A panel of Government experts has been quietly discussing the hugely
controversial move for more than a year.

Senior members of the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs want
the drug to be downgraded from Class A to B when they pass their
verdict next summer.

The revelation risks plunging the Government into a damaging drugs

An outcry over the downgrading of cannabis from Class B to C has
already prompted a re-think, with Gordon Brown determined to reverse
the decision.

But opposition is now likely to open on a second front if ecstasy is
downgraded to Class B at the same time as the policy on cannabis is
being tightened.

The reclassification of ecstasy - which has killed more than 200 over
15 years - would severely reduce the penalties for taking and using

Possession would be cut from a maximum penalty of seven to five years,
and dealing would be reduced from a possible life sentence to a
maximum of 14 years.

Shadow Home Secretary David Davis said: "It would be outrageous if
Gordon Brown, for all his tough talk, accepted any recommendations to
declassify ecstasy.

"Ministers should be absolutely clear in warning about the dangers of
drugs and classify appropriately.

"Any shirking of their responsibility will betray a whole generation
of young people."

Opponents also include Des Delaney, whose 18-year-old daughter Siobhan
died after taking a pill on a night out.

He said Home Office advisers were out of touch with reality, and one
death from ecstasy was 'one too many'.

The Advisory Council, a Government panel reporting direct to the Home
Secretary, has been considering the case for downgrading ecstasy
behind closed doors.

Today it will go public with the idea at the first open meeting of the
body, which is also reviewing the cannabis laws for Mr Brown.

Hugely influential voices on the committee want ecstasy downgrading,
including the Government's main scientific adviser on drugs.

Professor David Nutt argues that ecstasy's presence alongside other
hard drugs such as heroin and crack is an 'anomaly'.

Sources said the council decided to review ecstasy's status after a
report by Parliament's Science and Technology Committee suggested it
caused less harm than other class A drugs.

But separate studies have warned of a long-term danger to users, in
addition to the short-term risks of dehydration or the body

After today's open session the committee will spend six months
compiling a report for the Home Secretary.

Jacqui Smith must then take the politically difficult final decision
over whether to accept the drug should be downgraded.

A Home Office spokesman said: "We will consider the Advisory Council's
advice carefully, as we do for any advice it provides.

"However, the Government has no intention of reclassifying ecstasy."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake