Pubdate: Fri, 31 Mar 2000
Source: DRCNet Weekly News
UK: Police Foundation Report Calls for Marijuana Decrim,
Lower Penalties for Other Drugs
A blue-ribbon study commissioned by Britain's Police Foundation,
an independent think tank, has concluded that criminal penalties
for the possession of marijuana and other drugs should be lowered
drastically, but government spokesmen were quick to announce they
had no intention of following the report's suggestions.
"Drugs and the Law," released this week after two years of
research, found that the problems associated with marijuana's
illegal status outweighed its relative health risks, especially
when those risks were compared to the legal drugs alcohol and
tobacco. The report recommends that marijuana be downgraded from
a Class B to a Class C drug, carrying no jail sentence and a
maximum fine of UKP500 [¥ 80,000] for possession.
The report also recommends that LSD and Ecstasy, currently Class
A drugs along with heroin and cocaine, be downgraded to Class B,
and that the penalty for their possession be a fine no greater
than UKP1000 [¥ 160,000]. As for heroin and cocaine, the report suggests
that the possession or use of these drugs be punishable by no
more than one year in jail; currently, persons convicted of
possessing Class A drugs face jail terms as long as seven years.
Penalties should be raised for higher-level drug dealing,
providing children with drugs and drug-related violence.
Ultimately, the study concluded that law enforcement resources
are better focused on the investigation and prosecution of drug
dealers, not users, and that the drug policy pursued by the UK
since the passage of the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act had resulted in
greater harms from drug abuse and the criminalization of
unacceptably large numbers of people.
In effect, "Imprisonment is neither a proportionate response to
the vast majority of possession offences nor an effective
response," the report reads. The report cited the success of the
Netherlands in that country's pursuit of decriminalization and
harm reduction strategies as one possible model.
The panel commissioned for the report by the Police Foundation,
which is headed by Prince Charles, included top representatives
from Britain's law enforcement, legal, and academic communities.
But the report's recommendations drew immediate resistance from
the government. A spokesman for Prime Minister Tony Blair told
The Independent newspaper that Blair believes "it would send the
worst possible signal if we were to soften our laws in the way
being suggested." Blair's "Drug Czar" Keith Hellawell and the
Home Office echoed those sentiments, and assured that no steps
would be taken to revise or reduce the drug laws.
Paul Flynn, a Labour MP who serves as joint-vice-chair on
Parliament's Drugs Misuse all party group, gave The Week Online
one explanation for the government's dismissal of the report.
"The Government are hooked on the belief that there is a harvest
of votes in the election in appearing to be 'tough' not 'soft'"
on drugs, Flynn said via e-mail this week. However, he said,
"The report is very good news and has been warmly received by the
press. It will be extremely difficult in future for the
Government to misrepresent what has happened in the Netherlands."
Flynn said the report's recommendations are worded similarly to a
bill coming up for a second reading in Parliament on June 9.
DRCNet Weekly News