The latest addition to the
ever-growing debate over British drug policy came this week as the parliamentary
Home Affairs Select Committee studying current policy released its long-awaited
report, "The Government's Drugs Policy: Is It Working?" The Members
of Parliament (MPs) on the committee undertook 10 months of hearings before
issuing its report on Wednesday. While the MPs recommended significant
drug policy reforms across-the-board and called for "a major shake-up,"
they balked at going the extra step and calling for legalization -- even
In all, the report makes
24 specific recommendations for change, among the most notable of which
While the committee's recommendations
have frightened anti-drug activists, they have also received scorn from
some prominent legalizers. Former Cabinet Minister Mo Mowlam, for
example, told the BBC News that the committee's proposed "halfway measures
do nothing." Ministers should "have the guts to go all the way" and
legalize cannabis and ecstasy, she said.
Reclassification of cannabis
and ecstasy: "We believe that drugs policy should primarily be addressed
to dealing with the 250,000 problematic drug users. We support...
the Home Secretary's proposal to reclassify cannabis from class B to class
C. We... recommend that ecstasy is reclassified as a class B drug."
Heroin: "We recommend that the
Government substantially increases the funding for treatment for heroin
addicts and ensure that methadone treatments and complementary therapies
are universally available to those who need them. We recommend that
appropriate treatment forms a mandatory part of custodial sentences and
that offenders have access to consistent treatment approaches within the
prison estate as well as outside it. This should include strictly
supervised methadone treatment in the first instance. We recommend
that a proper evaluation is conducted of diamorphine [medical heroin] prescribing
for heroin addiction in the UK... as compared with methadone prescribing
regimes. We recommend that the guidance and training provided to
practitioners prescribing diamorphine to heroin addicts is strengthened."
Cocaine: "We recommend that
the number of treatment places for cocaine users is substantially increased.
We recommend that resources are channeled into researching and piloting
innovative treatment interventions. We consider that the risks posed
by cocaine to the user and to other people merit it remaining a class A
drug. We recommend that more treatment places are created for crack
users and that resources be channeled into researching and piloting more
effective treatments. We further recommend that in the meantime efforts
are redoubled to extinguish supply of crack cocaine. Where crack
is concerned we see no prospect for compromise."
Safe Injection Sites: "We recommend
that an evaluated pilot programme of safe injecting houses for heroin users
is established without delay and that if... this is successful, the
programme is extended across the country. We conclude that the Dutch
and Swiss evidence provides a strong basis on which to conduct a pilot
here in Britain of highly structured heroin prescribing to addicts."
Drug Education: "We believe
that all drugs education material should be based on the premise that any
drug use can be harmful, and should be discouraged. We conclude that
general practitioners are, for the most part, inadequately trained to deal
with drug misuse. We recommend that training in substance misuse
is embedded in the undergraduate medical curriculum and postgraduate general
Social Dealing: "We recommend
that a new offence is created of 'supply for gain,' which would be used
to prosecute large-scale commercial suppliers. We are not persuaded
that an intent to supply should be presumed on the basis of amounts of
drugs found; we therefore recommend that the offences of simple possession
and possession with intent to supply should be retained."
Harm Reduction Workers and the
Law: "We recommend that the Government reviews Section 9A of the Misuse
of Drugs Act 1971, with a view to repealing it, to allow for the provision
of drugs paraphernalia which reduces the harm caused by drugs. We
recommend that Section 8 of the Act is amended to ensure that drugs agencies
can conduct harm reduction work and provide safe injecting areas for users
without fear of being prosecuted. We recommend that the Home Office
and Department of Health urgently review the current legal framework on
the dispensation of controlled drugs by community pharmacists. We
recommend that Drug Abstinence Orders are amended to carry the requirement
of access to treatment."
Legalization: "While acknowledging
that there may come a day when the balance may tip in favour of legalising
and regulating some types of presently illegal drugs, we decline to recommend
this drastic step. We accept that to decriminalise possession of
drugs for personal use would send the wrong message to the majority of
young people... and that it would inevitably lead to an increase
in drug abuse. We, therefore, reject decriminalisation. We
recommend that the Government initiates a discussion within the [United
Nations] Commission on Narcotic Drugs of alternative ways -- including
the possibility of legalisation and regulation -- to tackle the global
"The ecstasy move, to bring
it down a class, what does that do? It makes it more available,"
she said. "But it doesn't deal with the underlying problems of making
sure it's clean, making sure people know how much and that water is available
and how much water to drink."
But if the committee was
criticized for timidity on one side, the Labor government of Tony Blair
was quick to reject some of its recommendations as too much, too soon.
Home Secretary David Blunkett quickly rejected the committee's ecstasy
downgrade proposal, which would move the drug from Class A (heroin, cocaine)
to Class B (barbiturates, amphetamines). In a statement issued Wednesday
evening, Blunkett said: "Reclassification of ecstasy is not on the government's
agenda. Ecstasy can and does kill unpredictably and there is no such
thing as a safe dose."
British observers report
that roughly a half-million Britons use ecstasy each weekend. About 15
Britons die from ecstasy each year.
Likewise, Blunkett said the
Blair government had "no plans for injecting rooms."
But on cannabis reclassification,
which would make marijuana a Class C drug regulated like steroids or Valium,
Blunkett and the committee were in sync. As a result, cannabis reclassification
will be implemented in June, said Blunkett. While both Blunkett and
the committee rejected "decriminalization," the reclassification of cannabis
will result in the de facto decriminalization of simple possession.
Police encountering someone in possession of Class C drugs typically write
a citation rather than arrest the person.
While the committee hesitated
to embrace legalization, which it called "a step into the unknown," its
report acknowledged that legalization advocates were "sensible and thoughtful
people." And the committee did urge that Britain initiate a debate
at the United Nations over alternative means of regulating the global drug
supply. "It may well be that a future generation will take a different
view. Drug policy should not be set in stone," said the report.
In a related story, Ananova
Press reported on Thursday evening that former Lord Chief Justice Bingham
of Cornhill called for cannabis legalization, telling The Spectator magazine
that current marijuana laws are "stupid." Cornhill is believed to
be the most senior British judge to call for legalization while still in
The Home Affairs Select Committee
report can be read online at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200102/cmselect/cmhaff/318/31802.htm.
-- END --
Issue #238, 5/24/02
Coalition for Higher Education Act Reform Joins with Members of Congress at US Capitol to Call for Repeal of HEA Drug Provision | British MPs Call for Massive Drug Policy Reform, But Reject Legalization -- for Now | Incoming Dutch Government Threatens Coffee Shops | Budget Crunch: Drug War Fuels Mississippi Prison Binge, No Money Left for Education | High School Drug Courts Spreading in West Virginia | Newsbrief: Marijuana Exile Steve Kubby Claims Refugee Status in Canada | Newsbrief: British Cannabis Cafe Owner Freed | Newsbrief: North Carolina Drug Courts Face Ax Because of Budget Woes | Newsbrief: New York City Cops in Paraphernalia Sweep, Big Hoopla, Misdemeanor Arrests | Newsbrief: Seattle Marijuana Initiative Signature-Gathering Now Underway | Newsbrief: Santa Cruz to Place Needle Disposal Boxes in Public Restrooms | Errata: Different Kinds of Mushrooms | The Reformer's Calendar
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