Pubdate: Sun, 23 Mar 2008
Source: Sunday Telegraph (UK)
Copyright: Telegraph Group Limited 2008
Author: Ben Leapman


Conservatives lambast 'lax approach' by ministers after big drop in
prosecutions since drug was downgraded, writes Ben Leapman

The number of cannabis dealers brought to justice has slumped since
the Government relaxed the law on possession of the drug.

Justice Ministry figures show a 29 per cent decline in the number of
suspects brought to court on dealing charges and a 60 per cent fall in
the number jailed.

The Conservatives said that the figures, which were released in
response to parliamentary questions, clearly demonstrated that
ministers were taking a "lax approach" to the issue.

Gordon Brown has ordered a review of the decision to relax the law on
cannabis and a report from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs
is expected to be submitted to the Government soon.

When cannabis was downgraded from class B to class C in January 2004,
police stopped routinely arresting users of the drug but insisted that
they would continue to take a tough approach towards dealers.

The maximum prison sentence for those convicted of supplying cannabis
has remained at 14 years. Yet the number of suspects brought to court
on dealing charges has fallen from 2,790 in 2003 to 1,994 in 2006, the
latest available figure.

The number given a prison sentence fell from 697 to only

The figure for prosecutions is tiny compared with the scale of
cannabis use. More than a million people use the drug each year in the
16-to-24 age group alone, according to British Crime Survey findings,
although it is thought the number of users has fallen by about 20 per
cent since the law was relaxed.

David Davis, the shadow home secretary, said: "The decision to
de-classify cannabis has sent mixed messages. The decline in drugs
offenders being jailed can only weaken efforts to deter its sale and

"We need a zero-tolerance approach to drugs, from our shores to our
streets. That means establishing a dedicated border police force,
re-classifying cannabis, prosecuting drug dealers, as well as rolling
out abstinence-based rehabilitation and proper drug programmes in our

A spokesman for the Home Office said: "The Government's message on
cannabis is consistent and clear - cannabis is an illegal and harmful

"The Government takes the dealing of illegal drugs very seriously and
has toughened the penalties for drug dealers. Since 2006, longer
sentences have been imposed on those caught dealing in the vicinity of
schools or using children as couriers.

"The Government creates the legislative framework but decisions on
whether or not to prosecute are a matter for the police and the Crown
Prosecution Service, and decisions on sentencing are a matter for the

There has been a long-term decline in prosecutions of alleged cannabis
dealers over the past decade.

In 1997, the year Labour came to power, a total of 5,063 were brought
to court and 1,779 were sentenced to prison.
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