Source: The Guardian, UK
Pubdate: Tue, 09 Jun 1998
Author: Alan Travis, Home Affairs Editor


The on-the-spot penalty fines for possession of cannabis have been
given strong backing by the public, according to a Guardian/ICM
opinion poll looking at attitudes towards drug abuse, published today.

The use of parking-style penalties for minor drug offences as an
alternative to police station official cautions or courtroom
prosecutions is believed to be under consideration by Home Office ministers.

Customs officers already use on-the-spot penalties to punish
travellers they discover with small amounts of cannabis. Keith
Hellawell, the recently-appointed drugs tsar who has strongly resisted
calls for the legalisation of soft drugs, is believed to have
considered the idea of fixed penalty fines.

About half the people caught by police in possession of cannabis now
are taken to a police station and given a formal caution if there is
no evidence of intent to supply. The remainder are generally fined
after a court hearing. On-the-spot fines would provide a much more
immediate form of punishment and save police time.

The Guardian/ICM June poll also shows that the public gave strong
backing, by 65 to 27 per cent, to the idea that employers should have
the right to introduce tests to check their staff are not taking drugs.

Such company testing programmes have become widespread in the US and
some American employers have started to introduce similar schemes in

The scale of the backing for drug testing at work is surprising since
the Home Office has assumed in the past that it would lead to civil
liberties objections and would be regarded as legitimate only in
high-risk situations.

It is already a criminal offence for certain workers, such as airline
pilots and train drivers, to be unfit through drink or drugs while

But the surprising levels of support for drug testing generally in the
workplace is likely to influence policymakers. The Health and Safety
Executive will shortly issue new guidance on the treatment of drugs in
the workplace.

Other key findings from the poll include overwhelming public support
for the Government's policy of introducing "drug awareness" school
lessons for children aged between five and 11.

More than 75 per cent of the public believe that drug awareness
lessons should be given in primary schools, demolishing fears that
parents would be shocked by it.

A significant minority (47 per cent) also believe the illegality of
such drugs actually encourages teenagers to experiment with them. Only
13 per cent believe that criminality actually deters teenagers from
trying them. Among 18 to 24-year-olds, the proportion who believe that
illegality is part of the attraction rises to 64 per cent against 8
per cent who think it is a deterrent.

The poll also shows the generation gap in attitudes to illicit drugs
remains as stark as ever. A majority (53 to 47 per cent) of those
polled aged 18 to 34 agreed with the statement that "cannabis is no
worse than smoking or drinking".

A similar proportion (53 to 46 per cent) of the same age group also
rejected the notion that if you use soft drugs, you will end up on
hard drugs.

Legalisation is unlikely to lead to a boom in drug use, with only 16
per cent of the under-34s saying they would buy drugs if they were
made legal.

The older generations aged 35 and over do not share this approach.
Only one in three of this group agreed that "using cannabis is no

worse than smoking or drinking" while 66 per cent of them believed
that if you use soft drugs you will end up on hard drugs.

ICM interviewed 1,201 adults aged 18 and over by telephone between
June 5 and 6, 1998. Interviews were conducted across the country and
the results have been weighted to the profile of all adults.

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