Tough Drug Law Produces More Harm

Tough Drug Law Produces More Harm
Posted by FoM on March 29, 2000 at 23:26:16 PT
By T. R. Reid, Washington Post Foreign Service
Source: Washington Post
The swinging '60s were lively and creative years in this country as Britain exported cultural phenomena that caught on around the world--the Beatles, the miniskirt, etc. But the freewheeling decade also had its dark side. There was an explosion in drug use, and by 1971 the government reported that Britain had nearly 3,000 known drug addicts, an alarming figure to officials.
This disturbing news led to a tough new criminal statute, the Misuse of Drugs Act, which triggered an American-style war on drugs. The result? Over the three decades since the law was passed, drug offenses have risen tenfold; the number of known addicts now tops 43,000. Britain has the toughest drug laws in Western Europe--and the fastest rate of growth in drug use.To figure out why the law failed to meet its goals, the national Police Foundation set up a blue-ribbon commission of police officers, academics and politicians to conduct a two-year study of British drug policy. The group's report, "Drugs and the Law," came out this week and concluded that the 1971 law is actually too tough, at least on such "soft" drugs as marijuana and the psychedelic substances LSD and ecstasy. "The present law," the commission concluded, "produces more harm than it prevents." Most drug crimes in Britain involve marijuana--about 80,000 of the 115,000 drug cases each year. But polls show that most Britons consider marijuana--or "cannabis," as it is known here--less dangerous than tobacco. The tough stance on marijuana, therefore, has made people distrust drug laws in general because it focuses on a drug they don't think is dangerous, thus undermining "credibility, respect for law and the police, and accurate education messages," the study says.The commission concluded that Britain should move away from the American model of tougher enforcement and longer prison sentences and move instead in the direction of other democracies in Western Europe, where possession of many drugs and hallucinogens has been decriminalized. In most of Western Europe, use of marijuana or LSD draws a fine, like a parking ticket."Depenalizing cannabis in Britain would reflect practice in Spain, Italy, Portugal, much of Scandinavia, most German [states] . . . and Holland," said commission member Simon Jenkins, a columnist for the Times of London. All those countries, he noted, "have lower consumption rates than Britain."The commission also said police should focus their efforts on people who use and sell cocaine and heroin, the most dangerous drugs. It said that mere possession of marijuana, ecstasy, LSD, barbiturates and amphetamines no longer should draw a jail term, only fines. About 90 percent of the drug convictions here each year are for possession, the report said, because users generally are easier to catch than traffickers. The commission also compared two legal substances, alcohol and tobacco, against a range of illegal drugs in terms of health risks. It concluded that both alcohol and tobacco are more dangerous than marijuana. For all the work that went into the study, however, it may turn out to be just another blue-ribbon report that is shelved. Jack Straw, Britain's home secretary--roughly equivalent to the job of attorney general in the United States--said he did not agree that reducing penalties for possession would alleviate the nation's drug problem. The best way to fight drug use, Straw said, is to "maintain firm controls," so he had "no intention" of changing the 1971 law. London, March 29, 2000By T. R. ReidWashington Post Foreign ServiceThursday, March 30, 2000; Page A14  Copyright 2000 The Washington Post CompanyRelated Articles:Rebuff for Drugs Reform Let's Go Dutch? Think-Tank Says Relax Some Drug Laws in Britain: Special Report
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Comment #4 posted by Pat on March 30, 2000 at 06:18:55 PT
UK: Call for sweeping reform of drugs law  
From:   WebBooks   Date:   Wed Mar 29 2000, 6:40 AM GMT-08:00    Subject:   UK: Call for sweeping reform of drugs law     Newshawk: The Legalise Cannabis Alliance ">> Subj: UK: Call for sweeping reform of drugs law Date: 29 Mar, 2000 Source: Times, The (UK) Copyright: 1999 Times Newspapers Ltd Contact: letters Website: Call for sweeping reform of drugs law BY RICHARD FORD, HOME CORRESPONDENT JAIL terms for hard drugs users should be cut and abolished altogether for users of Ecstasy, LSD and cannabis, according to a review of drug laws published yesterday. The study makes the recommendations after concluding that there is "no evidence" that the present penalties deter traffickers or prevent the supply of drugs. The most controversial recommendation of the two-year inquiry into the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 is for reduced jail terms for possession of cocaine and heroin. It also calls for changes in the classification of Ecstasy, LSD and cannabis. Viscountess Runciman of Doxford, chairman of the inquiry by the Police Foundation, said: "We have concluded that the most dangerous message of all is that all drugs are equally dangerous. "When young people know that the advice they are being given is either exaggerated or untrue, there is a real risk they will discount everything they are told about the most hazardous drugs, including heroin and cocaine. "Imprisonment is not a proportionate response to the vast majority of possession offences. A prison sentence should be abolished as a penalty for most possession offences." The report recommends that prison terms be cut for people caught using Class A drugs, including heroin and cocaine, from seven years to one. Even then, it should be considered only after treatment and community punishment have failed. Ecstasy and LSD should be downgraded from Class A to Class B and penalties for possession cut from five years to a UKP1,000 fine. Cannabis should also be downgraded from Class B to Class C and prosecutions carried out only for persistent offending with a maximum fine of UKP500. The report recommended that people found growing cannabis for personal use should also receive a fixed penalty fine. In most cases cannabis possession would be treated with a police caution, warning or fixed penalty fine. It should no longer be an arrestable offence, although a senior police officer on the inquiry team gave a warning of the consequences. Dennis O'Connor, Chief Constable of Surrey, said that without the power to arrest, officers would not be able to question suspects about their supplies. He did not attend the report's launch. John Hamilton, Chief Constable of Fife, also on the inquiry, shared those fears. While lowering punishments for individual possession of drugs, however, it called for greater attention to drug suppliers and traffickers.It recommended a new offence of drug dealing, in which the courts would take into account a pattern of illicit dealing. Under the change, the person would be able to use the defence that they were supplying a small social group, such as friends or family, in answer to a charge of supplying Class B or Class C drugs. The inquiry calls for the creation of a National Confiscation Agency to seize the assets of drug dealers. It said that the present arrangements - under which courts order seizures - were ineffective. In 1997 the amount ordered to be confiscated was UKP5.6 million, one fifth of the amount confiscated in 1994. The average confiscation order was for UKP3,400, the lowest yet. The report outlines the scale of the drug problem in Britain, showing that between 1973 and 1996 the number of new and renotified addicts increased more than 1,000 per cent, from 3,022 to 43,372. It said that local studies estimated that the total number of addicts in Britain in the late 1990s was between 100,000 and 200,000. The great majority of people dealt with under the Act were accused of possessing illegal drugs and cannabis dominated those offences. The latest Home Office British Crime Survey estimates that 2.5 million people aged 16 to 29 took cannabis in 1997. In an attempt to deal with the problem of drug use by young people, the report says that nightclubs should provide first aid treatment and educational material about the dangers. A Mori poll for the report involving 1,645 people aged 16 to 59 found that 90 per cent judged heroin, cocaine and Ecstasy to be very or fairly harmful. Only one third thought cannabis to be as harmful as heroin and or cocaine. Half of all adults felt that the law should be changed so that cannabis use was no longer illegal. Only 0.5 per cent of people thought targeting cannabis users should be a police priority. Shug -- "The makers of the Constitution: conferred, as against the government, the right to be let alone - the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men." "Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government's purposes are beneficial ... the greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well meaning but without understanding." - US-Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis, 1928 -- - The UK Cannabis Information Website 
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Comment #3 posted by mungojelly on March 30, 2000 at 06:14:31 PT:
drug use is bad bad bad
"The swinging '60s were lively and creative years ... the Beatles, the miniskirt, etc ... But the freewheeling decade also had its dark side. There was an explosion in drug use ..." -- A completely unrelated explosion in drug use, I suppose? Hah. This "drug use" did not just happen to come along at the same time as the Beatles. It is quite obviously deeply interrelated with the cultural phenomena of the time. Lately people seem to want to accept the cultural changes that have occured, but not the drugs which were a large part of the inspiration for those changes -- unfortunately (for them) it's not that easy. I've seen them on television saying that Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds is not about LSD, & I laughed my ass off. 
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Comment #2 posted by MMMM on March 30, 2000 at 04:36:10 PT
They lumped marijuana users in with drug addicts. IQ's of a plant.
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Comment #1 posted by LSN on March 30, 2000 at 00:17:50 PT
Britain drops the bomb in English speaking world
The first change if anything in the English speaking world (arms trade, financial injustice and drug laws) will have to come from Britain. English speaking countries are usually isolated from their European and Latin counterparts due to the language barrier. The media plays an important role in shaping public opinion, which is why the changes in Europe have been slow to be caught up in US.At the opposite point of the globe, yet another small English speaking country, New Zealand is considering decriminalising cannabis. This will put US in even more awkward position in the reform of drug laws.
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