Breaking The Last Taboo in War Against Drugs

  Breaking The Last Taboo in War Against Drugs

Posted by FoM on June 25, 2001 at 15:51:29 PT
By Paul Waugh, Deputy Political Editor 
Source: Independent 

David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, signalled an important shift in government thinking on drugs yesterday when he declared he was "interested" in radical new police proposals on cannabis possession. In a move welcomed by campaigners for drug reform, Mr Blunkett said hard drugs such as heroin and crack cocaine should be the "absolute priority" for police resources. The Home Secretary said that a scheme run by police in Lambeth, south London, to caution rather than arrest those in possession of cannabis, "fits in entirely" with government policy. 
His remarks came as all the contenders for the leadership of the Conservative Party broke with tradition and called for a national debate on Britain's drug laws and practice. Michael Portillo, Michael Ancram, David Davis and Iain Duncan Smith all said that politicians should be brave enough to engage in a discussion of the issue. In contrast to his predecessor, Jack Straw, who refused to contemplate alternative approaches, Mr Blunkett highlighted work of the Metropolitan Police in Brixton. Under the direction of Lambeth's police chief, Commander Brian Paddick, the local force will oversee the most radical approach to drug use seen in Britain to date. Instead of arresting and charging those found in possession of soft drugs such as cannabis, from early next month police officers will issue a formal caution. When asked if he would like to see the scheme repeated nationally, Mr Blunkett told BBC's Breakfast with Frost that the policy was in line with his own plans to direct police resources against hard drugs. "I talked to Brian Paddick the first Tuesday after the election down in Lambeth. I went to visit their command unit and he actually told me what he was about to do," he said. Mr Blunkett stressed that Commander Paddick's "experiment" fitted his own emphasis of "placing absolute priority on class A drugs on both the trafficking in drugs and people and weaponry and on concentrating police resources where they're needed most. "So I'm interested in the experiment," Mr Blunkett said. He said he would not discourage a national debate on the issue and was preparing to expand the co-ordinated drug strategythat he inherited from the Cabinet Office. Home Office sources said that while Mr Blunkett was not advocating decriminalisation for the whole country, he did believe that it was an operational matter for police forces to decide upon. Mr Blunkett also pointed out that the Conservative leadership contenders had been advocating a debate, a fact that was borne out when all of them issued statements backing such a move. Mr Portillo told the same television programme: "Many people in this country now have a view on this, they either have personal experience or they have experience in their families, and they must think it is very extraordinary that the political class is not prepared to debate the issue. "I don't know what the answer to this is. But I do believe that if people in politics are to claim to represent the people of the country, then they have got to be seen at least to be willing to understand and to address issues that people out there are talking about." Mr Ancram told GMTV's Sunday Programme that he didn't support decriminalisation of cannabis but added that the law should be applied "intelligently" by officers on the ground. Mr Duncan Smith said he was willing to look at the issue if he became leader. "Policing should be concerned with clearing drugs off the street to leave people free to get on with their lives, not raiding people in their houses," he said. "There are margins of tolerance, there is a difference between usage and dealing." Mr Davis, who kicked off the debate, said politicians owed it to parents to discuss the issue so the facts of the case could be aired sensibly. The new approach by the senior Tories contrasts starkly with that of Ann Widdecombe, the shadow Home Secretary, who caused uproar in the Shadow Cabinet when she called for a toughening of the law on users of cannabis. But Mr Blunkett's openness to a change of policy is what will surprise most observers, given his supporters' claim that he would "make Jack Straw look like a liberal". In assessing schemes such as the Lambeth one and signalling an openness to a debate, Mr Blunkett may be ready to break one of the last taboos of modern politics: the "war on drugs" that treats cannabis and heroin as two sides of the same coin. Note: Home Secretary signals support for proposal by south London police to caution rather than hold those possessing small quantities.Related Article:Zero Tolerance Has Support On RightPublished: June 25, 2001Official Labour and Conservative policy is to oppose the decriminalisation of cannabis and conventional political wisdom states that anything else is electoral suicide. Ann Widdecombe, the former shadow Home Secretary, is one of the most strident opponents. During last year's Tory conference she demanded £100 fixed-penalty fines for possession. The call for zero tolerance is supported by the former Conservative Party chairman Lord Tebbit, the former Tory Home Office minister David Maclean, and Paul and Janet Betts, whose daughter, Leah, died after taking an ecstasy pill. Miss Widdecombe was quickly undermined by admissions from several shadow cabinet members that they had smoked marijuana. However, Mr Hague continued to rule out decriminalisation, sticking to the argument that soft drugs led to hard drugs. Tony Blair's position was hardly different, with his spokesman insisting that cannabis was harmful, dismissing decriminalisation as "a panacea" that did not solve the problem of drug abuse and describing drugs as "a scourge of modern times that is destroying lives". The Prime Minister has spoken against legalising cannabis, saying he was worried that young vulnerable people would not stop at soft drugs. Keith Hellawell, the Government's drug tsar, whose position has been scrapped, has refused even to put decriminalisation on the agenda for discussion, although he has said he supports legalisation for medical use only. Sir John Stevens, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, also opposes any move from the status quo, despite the Brixton experiment. Source: Independent (UK)Author: Paul Waugh, Deputy Political EditorPublished: June 25, 2001Copyright: 2001 Independent Newspapers (UK) Ltd.Website: letters Articles:Blunkett Backs Soft Approach on Cannabis Relaxes Approach To Cannabis Offences

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Comment #3 posted by kaptinemo on June 26, 2001 at 13:52:47 PT:
Kevin, I'm sure of it
It's no accident that the Europeans are moving out ahead of us. Especially after the US's debacle vis-a-vis the UN NCBThink about it: The US practically was the NCB. It wouldn't have existed were it not for our 'hearty help'. It was but one of many proverbial 'big sticks' the US used to threaten other nations with. A venue to spout its' DrugWar cant. But the moment we are ousted, what happens? Nations start backing away from the US DrugWar. So much so that a certain Mr. Maginis was peeing and moaning about the quiet mass defection, and how it makes it that much more difficult for the antis to twist the arms of nations who've had enough and are stepping out of the line march to the precipice.A prediction: in less than 4 years, we may expect to see both Canada and the UK go decrim. And it will be a very hot race to see whether the other nations follow suit within months of these events. My money is on Germany; some of her stadten have already gone decrim, such as in their South. The precedent already exists.Like I said, Uncle will be left alone, like your common corner soapbox wildman, screeching himself hoarse at passersby who, if they aren't repelled by his invective, might take pity on such a pathetic fool.  
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Comment #2 posted by Kevin Hebert on June 26, 2001 at 09:59:12 PT:
I hope so kaptinemo
I really do feel that the United States cannot, or, more precisely, will not be a leader in this issue. I hope European countries, especially Britain, do the right thing. If Canada follows suit, how can we possibly keep the charade going here?
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Comment #1 posted by kaptinemo on June 26, 2001 at 08:52:45 PT:
The donkeys need some aspirin
From having a two-by-four liberally (no pun intended) applied to their craniums.That is how you generally get the attention of an ass, isn't it?Unfortunately, the extant of my knowledge of British politics is only what I see take place in the House of Commons on Prime Minister's Questions on C-SPAN.But it seems to me quite clear that the Liberals have awakened to the enormous political potential of the reform issue.If only for purely self-serving reasons, however.They are clearly afraid the Conservatives will steal the show with their sudden epiphany about the pointlessness of the drug laws. And willingness to be so vocal about it. As the old saying goes, the most recently converted sing the loudest in church.(Another matter of interest, which I keep pointing out: it has not been more than two months since the US was pitched arse-over-teakettle out of the UN Narcotics Control Board. In that time, we have seen the European nations, and now the UK, making tentative moves towards developing their own decrim/legalization approaches, and moving away from the the US-styled DrugWar. Moves which are getting hardly a peep of official recognition by our much-vaunted ONDCP and its' catspaws in the media. It's astounding how quiet they've been about something that has earth-shaking potential to destroy their little gravy-train. Amazing, isn't it? When the big bad drug law bully isn't on the playground, the other kids stop acting neurotically.)Looks like yet another 'hot' summer, friends. Because if the staunchest of DrugWar allies - as the UK has been - turns it's back on US policy and embraces something a good deal more sensible, then the trend will accellerate amongst those nations now sitting on the fence. And Uncle could well find himself alone in the world, with only those nations dependant upon his foreign aid singing in his insane chorus. 
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