Keith Hellawell: In His Own Words 

Keith Hellawell: In His Own Words 
Posted by CN Staff on July 13, 2002 at 20:19:29 PT
By Kamal Ahmed -- Observer Politics Extra 
Source: Observer UK
Online extra: more from The Observer interview with the former Drugs Tsar - on why the government's reclassification of cannabis meant he had to resign and putting the record straight on the home office's post-resignation claims. On spin:  As a lawyer, and they know I am a lawyer, if I've got a bad case I start to muddy the waters, by getting into details that cause confusion, then the people don't know what the hell the real issues are.
They pre-empted everything with a huge blood-letting about how bad I was, how awful I was. It all came out after the last election and clearly they are regurgitating that now. Everyone has been quite happy to put the knife into me. The Government was clearing the decks for this experiment, and I was in the way. I had been written out of the election, I had been sidelined.Between then and now there has been a denial that there has been a strategy in place, a void has been created to leave the impression that this week's announcement is something new and is going to help progress on this issue.This is part of the spin machine, they like to make announcements, they like to show that things are happening, they always need an initiative. The drugs issue is too important to be dealt with so lightly.I feel satisfied at the progress I have made which flies in the face of the negative spin which said that I had been wasting my time. On cannabis reclassification The real issues are, the way the Government has handled the change in policy on cannabis is causing confusion, it's lead to the impression that the Government is going soft on cannabis, the consequences of which will be de facto decriminalisation of cannabis because the police will not act because they don't act clearly in relation to valium and anebolic steroids.If I genuinely believed there was desire for legalisation and that this was the first step then you could see the logic to it, but I don't think there is that agenda. So why do all this?'He [the Prime Minister] was absolutely clear there was no change in the law, no softening on cannabis. They didn't want to be seen as going soft on drugs. It was to be a common sense approach. The central issue was the drugs that do most harm - heroin and cocaine. It was to be a single-minded approach; cannabis was a distraction from the main show. On his resignation on the Today programme My wife and I agonised over it, but as I had put my resignation in I thought I could do it. I was honest on the radio, I said nothing that I had not said in my resignation letter. I wasn't expecting the question on whether I had resigned. My wife said I stuttered before I answered.  On whether he had agreed to reclassification, as the Home Office suggestedWe were both scheduled to appear before the Home Affairs select committee [last autumn]. My take on it was that he was going announce that he was going to ask the advisory council on the misuse of drugs to look at reclassification of cannabis. My take on it was that he wanted me to be aware of that and I suspected that he was looking for a reaction from me, to see what I would say. He didn't ask me to agree or disagree. He said he was going to seek advice. On the Home Office claim that he had agreed to keep his resignation private until AugustThat is not true, there was nothing like that. By hand my resignation letter went to the Permanent Secretary, it said private and confidential. Within 24 hours a Grade 3 civil servant rang me at home and she had my resignation note in her hand, so it had obviously been bandied about the Home Office. She said: "I'm ringing on behalf of the Permanent Secretary, what do you want?" I said: "I don't want anything." She replied: "We might be able go some way with you on the revision of the strategy but we are going to have difficulties on the cannabis." I've never known such nonsense. There was no agreement. They had never spoken to me, we had never discussed. I had not had had one word from John Gieve, (the Permanent Secertary) and I've not had one word from Blunkett, nothing.On whether the reclassification of cannabis will lead to more drug taking:Well the evidence from elsewhere is that it does. The people who have been deterred from taking cannabis because it is illegal will certainly now have the impression that it alright to do it. The police officers on the street, and this is from a number of police officers in a number of forces, don't like it because when they stop kids on the street they say "Oh, I thought it was alright now". I think it's difficult for the Government. How can you say this is an issue, that this is a serious drug if the Government are telling the police to do nothing about it. The police also think that.When they started experimenting in this area in Holland, cannabis taking remained fairly flat and has only started climbing now. But there has been a sharp rise in the last two years, a far sharper increase than ours.Drugs Uncovered: Observer Special:,11908,686419,00.htmlSource: Observer, The (UK)Author: Kamal AhmedPublished: Sunday, July 14, 2002 Copyright: 2002 The ObserverContact: letters Articles:Government Hits Back at Drug Adviser's Resignation Adviser Quits Over Policy Switch Drug Adviser Resigns Drugs Adviser Quits Over Cannabis Plans
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