HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Police End Cannabis Seizures
Pubdate: Sun, 08 Jul 2001
Source: Observer, The (UK)
Copyright: 2001 The Observer
Contact:  ("Please insert 'Letter to the 
Editor' in the subject field)
Author: David Rose, Anthony Browne and Faisal Islam
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


New Effort To Halt Tide Of Hard Drugs

Britain is to abandon the hunt for cannabis smugglers and dealers in 
the most dramatic relaxation of policy on the drug so far.

Instead the Government has told law enforcement officers, including 
Customs officials and police, to target resources on 'hard drugs', 
such as heroin and cocaine.

Under the new strategy - part of the most radical shift in drugs 
policy for a generation - large-scale cannabis seizures and 
prosecutions will now take place only as a by-product of 
investigations into Class A drugs.

Last week with the blessing of Home Secretary David Blunkett, police 
in Brixton, south London, abandoned their policy of prosecuting 
people found with small amounts of the drug.

The relaxation comes as the law on possession of cannabis faces its 
most serious legal challenge. The civil rights group Liberty will 
argue in court tomorrow that it is incompatible with the new Human 
Rights Act.

The campaign to legalise cannabis gained further momentum yesterday 
as Clive Bates, director of the government-funded anti-smoking group 
Ash, argued for the legalisation of the drug.

The decision to give up hunting cannabis traffickers was taken by the 
Cabinet Office Committee, Concerted Inter-Agency Drugs Action (Cida). 
It consists of the heads of MI6, MI5, the Customs and Excise 
investigation branch, the National Criminal Intelligence Service, the 
police National Crime Squad, and the Association of Chief Police 
Officers, plus the permanent under-secretaries of the Home Office, 
Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence.

'It's not that we plan to stop seizing cannabis when we come across 
it,' one senior Customs source said last night. 'However, the need to 
focus on Class A drugs means cannabis seizures will now take place as 
a by-product, not as an end in themselves.'

Customs sources say the shift is seen as an 'inevitable consequence' 
of the Government's drug strategy, which sets agencies the target of 
reducing Class A drug consumption by half by 2008.

'Overall, the Government strategy is about reducing harm,' one chief 
police officer said. 'That has to mean placing a priority in reducing 
the supply of Class A drugs.'

He said regional drug distributors often 'blurred the boundaries' 
between drugs, so that inquiries into cocaine and heroin dealers 
might also yield finds of cannabis.

The focus on hard drugs was partly triggered by the first figures for 
UK consumption of cocaine and heroin, which show Britons are now 
consuming twice as much cocaine as the previous official estimates 
for the whole of Western Europe.

The figures, from a Home Office research project, show that last year 
British hard drug users took 28,000-36,000kg of heroin and 
35,000-41,000 kg of cocaine.

Cannabis was in effect decriminalised in Brixton last week, when 
police said they would no longer prosecute people caught with the 
drug but give them a verbal telling-off. Last year the Government 
said that having a caution for possessing cannabis would no longer 
carry a criminal record for life.

The Misuse of Drugs Act, which in 2000 led to 96,000 prosecutions 
against cannabis users, will be challenged in Southwark Crown Court 
this week when Liberty will claim it is incompatible with the Human 
Rights Act.

Liberty will be defending Jerry Ham, former director and founder of a 
homelessness charity, who has been charged with possession of small 
amount of cannabis. If Liberty is successful, it could make the law 
unenforceable in courts.

The relaxation of policy on cannabis follows changing public 
attitudes to the drug. This weekend senior Tory MP Alan Duncan 
supported Peter Lilley, the former deputy leader of the Conservative 
Party, who called for the legalisation of sale of the drug in 
licensed outlets.

Ash director Clive Bates said: 'We would legalise cannabis in its 
non- smokable forms, such as in cakes, tea or droplets. There's 
irrationality and inconsistency in the policy on tobacco, soft and 
hard drugs. Even if you legalised cannabis in its smokeable forms you 
couldn't come close to the harm done by cigarettes, because no one 
smokes 20 joints a day.'
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