Marijuana law reform is back in the news in the British Isles, as both a high-ranking police officer and a leading Liberal Democratic politician made comments over the weekend suggesting that pot should be decriminalized or regulated and sold legally.
But on Saturday, Tim Hollis, chief constable of the Humberside police and chairman of the Association of Chief Police Officers' drug committee, told the Guardian marijuana possession should be decriminalized to allow police to devote more resources to dealing with more serious crime. The criminal justice system can offer only a "limited" solution to Britain's drug problem, he said.
"We would rather invest our time in getting high-level criminals before the courts, taking money off them and removing their illicit gains rather than targeting young people," said Hollis. "We don't want to criminalize young people because, put bluntly, if we arrest young kids for possession of cannabis and put them before the courts we know what the outcome's going to be, so actually it's perfectly reasonable to give them words of advice or take it off them."
Hollis also backed increasing calls for the current drug classification system to be reexamined. He said concerns that placing drugs such as heroin and ecstasy in the same classification were justified. He also said whether to include tobacco and alcohol in the country's drug strategy should be open to debate.
"My personal belief in terms of sheer scale of harm is that one of the most dangerous drugs in this country is alcohol," he said. "Alcohol is a lawful drug. Likewise, nicotine is a lawful drug, but cigarettes can kill," he said. "There is a wider debate on the impacts to our community about all aspects of drugs, of which illicit drugs are one modest part."
Hollis's comments came as a row between scientists and politicians over marijuana policy continues. Just last week, Professor Roger Pertwee, arguably Britain's top marijuana researcher, called for decriminalization. But last month, the Home Office rejected marijuana decriminalization, calling it "the wrong approach."
And on Sunday, the junior partner in the government, the Liberal Democrats, were scolded by one of their leaders for staying "silent" on drug policy since the issued was last discussed at a party conference in 2002. Then, the party voted to legalize marijuana and end jail sentences for simple possession of any drugs.
At the party's national conference, Ewan Hoyle, founder of Liberal Democrats for Drug Policy Reform, called for a "rational debate" on drug policy, saying the party had been left "vulnerable" because it was seen as "soft on drugs." What is needed, he said, is detailed discussion of regulating drugs, the sale of drugs in pharmacies, and the diversion of profits from those sales to drug treatment programs.
"The last time we talked about this was in 2002 and we certainly haven't heard our candidates and representatives talking about it very much since," Hoyle told delegates. "I put it to you that we have been silent on this issue because we got our policy wrong. Our policy, especially on cannabis, was a soft on drugs policy which has left us vulnerable," he said.
"We have to start discussing policy features like pharmacy sales, the provision of detailed information on harm before individuals are permitted to purchase the drug, and bans on branding and marketing," Hoyle proposed. "We have to find a policy that can best protect our citizens from harm, especially our children, and that can end the massive profits from the criminal gains that control the illegal trade."
Will the Liberal Democrats listen and perhaps nudge their Tory partners toward a more reformist stance? Time will tell, but the pressure is mounting.