Decriminalisation Is Far From Lambeth 

Decriminalisation Is Far From Lambeth 
Posted by FoM on July 02, 2001 at 11:05:26 PT
By Alan Travis, Home Affairs Editor
Source: Guardian Unlimited
Today sees the start of a six month experiment in Brixton, south London, that could pave the way for the biggest change in Britain's drug laws since the 1971 misuse of drugs laws laid down the current criminal framework.The pilot scheme, for which the home secretary, David Blunkett, has given his tacit approval, is the first official recognition that decriminalisation of cannabis is a policy that can make pragmatic sense in terms of policing and politics.
The scheme, which could be extended across London if it is deemed successful, will mean that anyone caught with a small amount of cannabis in their possession will be given an on the spot warning instead of being given an official caution, arrested and possibly charged and fined.In some ways, the motivation for the scheme has flown more from the waste of police time involved than any moral argument about whether cannabis should be illegal when it causes less harm than alcohol and tobacco.Scotland Yard says that they can see little point in two officers hours spending hours charging a suspect who they have arrested for cannabis possession only for them to be fined 10 to 25 in the magistrates courts. It is far better, says Lambeth area commander, Brian Paddick, for his officers to spend their time chasing after the heroin and crack dealers.David Blunkett agrees that this emphasis "fits in government policy", which stresses the importance of giving the highest priority to tackling the trade in the most dangerous illegal drugs. One suspects that Blunkett is going to be far more liberal in his personal approach to drugs policy than his predecessor, Jack Straw. He has already called the Brixton scheme "an interesting experiment".But it is one thing to officially sanction an experiment on the streets of south London where cannabis, anyway, has been easily available for more than 40 years, and another to decriminalise cannabis across the country. Mo Mowlam at the weekend made her strongest call yet for the legalisation of cannabis, yet as the politicians' rhetoric gets more liberal, the police, outside Lambeth, appear to be getting more punitive.More than 100,000 people were fined and given a criminal record last year for cannabis possession. Many police forces are addicted to the "stop and search powers" the drug laws give them to gather intelligence on the street. Keith Hellawell, the hardline drugs tsar, has been sidelined, but whatever Blunkett wants to do as the new drugs overlord he will have to overcome the well-known prohibitionist views of Tony Blair himself to ensure lasting change.Met Begins New Drugs Scheme Staff and AgenciesThe Metropolitan police today began a radical experiment in Lambeth, south London, where people caught in possession of cannabis will not be arrested or charged with a criminal offence. Under the "Lambeth experiment", which has the informal backing of the home secretary, David Blunkett, those found with cannabis for personal use will have it confiscated by the police, but they will be warned, not prosecuted.Commander Brian Paddick, who is in charge of the Brixton-based scheme, hopes that it will save hours of police time spent in processing minor offenders. The trial, if successful, could be extended to the rest of London.Mr Blunkett has said that he is "interested in the experiment". "I talked to Brian Paddick on the first Tuesday after the election down in Lambeth. "He told me what he was about to do and I said that fits in entirely with the emphasis that I had already announced on placing absolute priority on Class A drugs."The experiment begins as the home secretary prepares to launch a crackdown on the sentencing of violent criminals, sex offenders and teenage thugs in a speech on Thursday.Danny Kushlick, director of Transform, the campaign group for drug law reform, said Lambeth police's decision not to arrest people found with small amounts of cannabis would have "little or no" effect on crime. "The move signals the beginning of the end of prohibition in its current form," he said. "It is a pity that the Home Office is not taking the lead on this issue and that it is left to pragmatic policing on the part of individual senior officers. "Only the legalisation, control and regulation of heroin and cocaine will bring the crime reduction that we all so desperately want to see."Mr Blunkett's speech is expected to focus on the use of hard drugs, as well as announcing the radical review of Britain's sentencing laws. He will announce the proposals in a speech to the National Probation Conference in London - his first major address since taking over from Jack Straw in the post-election cabinet reshuffle.Under the plans, young criminals who reoffend will be given no second chance and will be fast-tracked back into court, while dangerous criminals, including rapists and paedophiles, will be refused early release from prison. Mr Blunkett also wants to extend the policy of making young offenders pay reparations for their crimes to include adults who commit less dangerous offences. The speech will coincide with the publication of a report that will call for root-and-branch reform of the court system in an effort to crack down on reoffenders. Mr Blunkett is expected to discuss recommendations of the Halliday report - by the Home Office's director of criminal justice policy, John Halliday - in his speech. The report includes proposals for indefinite sentences for dangerous criminals and persistent sex offenders, which is sure to cause an outcry among civil liberties groups.A Drugs Peace Deal The Guardian Where politicians have feared to tread, the police have often been ready to move. Scotland Yard can expect some flak for its more permissive approach to possession of cannabis that begins on a pilot basis in parts of London today. But the key figure, the new home secretary, has already been squared. To his credit, David Blunkett has given the pilot a cautious welcome. Sensibly, Brixton is part of the pilot, which should help improve police/black relations in this sensitive part of the inner city. But it also makes sense in respect to the police's relations with young people, far too many of whom are being "criminalised" by the current law. Ludicrously, pot continues to dominate the policing of drugs. On possession, which accounts for 90% of all drug charges, cannabis accounts for 75% of cases. It has driven the divisive stop-and- search operations. More than 90,000 people stopped every year are found to be in possession of the drug. Yet, as the na tional commission on the drug laws noted last year, there are huge variations in the way such possession is handled by the police. Cautions range from 22% to 72% of all cases depending on the police force. This is a serious distortion of the criminal justice system, which is not meant to be a lottery and ought to seek a much more even-handed approach. It is to be hoped that the pilot can lead the way to this end. A new voice was added to the chorus of drug reformers yesterday. Mo Mowlam, former Labour cabinet minister with responsibility for drug policy, suggested in a new Sunday Mirror column that decriminalisation did not go far enough. She wanted it legalised so the supply side could be taken out of the hands of criminal syndicates. This would be too far out for Tony Blair, but he must reassess the advantages of decriminalisation. Four European states are now following Holland's lead. British polls show widespread support, with 99% placing pot in the lowest police priority slot. Source: Guardian Unlimited, The (UK)Author: Alan Travis, Home Affairs EditorPublished: Monday, July 2, 2001Copyright: 2001 Guardian Newspapers LimitedContact: letters Articles:Special Report: Drugs in Britain Says Legalisation of Cannabis Could Help Calls for Cannabis To Be Legalised Articles - UK 
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Comment #2 posted by Pontifex on July 02, 2001 at 16:13:49 PT:
Just 40 years?
Says the Guardian,"But it is one thing to officially sanction an experiment on the streets of south London where cannabis, anyway, has been easily available for more than 40 years [...]"Just 40 years? Use in the Victorian era is extensively documented, and cannabis sativa was a British industrial staple for centuries before that. Even Shakespeare was probably a">"> : Drugs clue to Shakespeare's geniusIn fact, throughout history, Londoners have left a trail of pot paraphernalia. The 17th century British Caribbean was awash in clay and glass pipes. Some day an enterprising grad student is going to examine the residue.Research">">Research at Port Royal(Port Royal was buried in an earthquake in 1692. A pipe shop was preserved, among other buildings.)
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Comment #1 posted by Jamie on July 02, 2001 at 13:33:03 PT:
The legalisation of cannabis
Hello i do not smoke Cannabis but the new law which has been inserted in Brixton interests me.When will the goverment be making a report on this?E-mail me back if possible.      Yours Sincerely Jaimie
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