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Home Office Press Release 255/2001, 23 October 2001

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I.D.M.U. Response

 

FOR ISSUE AFTER HOME SECRETARY STATEMENT TO HOME AFFAIRS SELECT COMMITTEE ON TUESDAY 23 OCTOBER 2001

BLUNKETT TO FOCUS ON THE MENACE OF HARD DRUGS

The Home Secretary today underlined the Government's determination to combat the scourge of Class A drugs such as heroin and cocaine.

Giving evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee, David Blunkett stressed the need to warn young people that all drugs, including cannabis, are dangerous. But he said there was a clear need to focus more effectively on hard drugs that cause the most harm and to get people into treatment.

He told the committee that it was critical to win over the hearts and minds of young people to this strategy, to get rid of policing anomalies and to make sense of public policy in this area. In doing so he proposed:

To seek advice from scientific and medical experts on the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) on their assessment of the arguments for re-classifying cannabis from Class B to Class C. He stressed that reclassification is quite different from decriminalisation or legalisation. Cannabis would remain a controlled drug and using it would be a criminal offence;

An innovative public awareness campaign on drugs aimed at young people;

To provide 1m as a starter fund for a pilot project to help police target regional drug traffickers with a view to a national roll-out of the scheme;

A series of measures, in partnership with the Department of Health, to minimise the harm that drugs cause including:

An action plan to reduce drug-related deaths;

Setting up a special team of experts to look at how best to tackle crack and cocaine addiction; and

New guidance on prescribing heroin; and

The roll-out of drug testing programmes.

Mr Blunkett also confirmed that, subject to the satisfactory outcome of phase three of the clinical trials currently being carried out, he would approve a change to the law to enable the prescription of cannabis-based medicine.

The Home Secretary said:

"Contrary to people's perceptions, drug use by young people is not rising overall and the number of 16-19 year olds using drugs in the last year fell. However, we must all be concerned at the increasing numbers of young people using cocaine and the corrosive effects of cocaine and heroin on our communities.

"We need to warn young people that all drugs are dangerous, but Class A drugs such as heroin and cocaine are the most harmful. We will only be successful at delivering this message if our policy as a whole is balanced and credible. A quarter of a million lives are being destroyed by hard drugs and the cost to the criminal justice system alone amounts to 1.2bn.

"In spite of our focus on hard drugs, the majority of police time is currently spent on handling cannabis offences. It is time for an honest and common sense approach focussing effectively on drugs that cause most harm.

"Given this background, and the very clear difference between cannabis and Class A drugs, I want to consult the medical and scientific professionals on re-classifying cannabis from Class B to Class C. I am therefore asking the ACMD to come back with their advice within three months."

Mr Blunkett added:

"Re-classification would be quite different from decriminalisation or legalisation. Cannabis would remain a controlled drug and using it a criminal offence.

"It would not detract from the simple message that all drugs are harmful and that no one should take drugs. But it would make clearer the distinction between cannabis and Class A drugs like heroin and cocaine. Above all it would make sense to both those policing the system and those providing education and advice to prevent young people falling into addiction.

"Young people, parents and carers need access to straightforward, clear and credible information. An innovative communication campaign will be launched in December to spell out the risks and dangers of drug taking.

"We will be targeting dealers and their profits to hit the middle men who are the essential link between the drug traffickers and the street dealers. Initially around 1m is being allocated to support a pilot project to help police target the regional drug traffickers with the intention that it will be rolled out nationally.

"The Proceeds of Crime Bill will allow us to seize more cash out of the hands of criminals and channel it back into our communities, including the disruption of the supply from organised traffickers to the dealers on the street.

"We are also doing more to get drug misusers out of the Criminal Justice System and into treatment. We recently launched three compulsory drug testing pilot schemes at police custody suites in Nottingham, Stafford and Hackney. We will use evaluation of these pilots to roll-out the testing regimes as widely and quickly as possible.

"We need to maintain our focus on treatment and the public health effects of drugs. The National Treatment Agency is now in place and will be driving up standards, including reducing waiting times. With the Department of Health we will be launching the Government's Action Plan on Drug Related Deaths.

"We have also set up a group of key experts to develop an action plan to tackle the treatment of crack and cocaine, and with the Department of Health we will produce new guidance for heroin prescribing. This will work towards providing a bridge between those who are obtaining heroin illegally, often through criminal activity, and the methadone treatment prescribing. It would be under highly secure and strict procedures and would allow the transfer into treatment without the current risks that exist to heroin users."

 

NOTES FOR EDITORS

1. Cannabis is controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. The Act utilises a three-tier classification system, graded according to harmfulness. Cannabis is currently a Class B drug. Heroin, cocaine, ecstasy and LSD are examples of Class A drugs, anabolic steroids Class C. Drugs can be moved between the classes, but there is a statutory requirement to consult the ACMD before doing so. The ACMD comprises experts in the fields of pharmacology, psychology, medicine, chemistry and those who work with drug users.

2. Re-classification of cannabis to Class C would not amount to either legalisation or decriminalisation of cannabis. Both possession and supply would remain criminal offences with a maximum penalty of 2 years imprisonment for possession and 5 years for supply. There is no power of arrest for possession of Class C drugs, although there is a power of arrest for supply and trafficking, this will be discussed further with the police service.

3. 120,000 persons were dealt with for drugs offences in 1999, 68 per cent of which were for possession of cannabis. Processing an offender for possession of cannabis could take a police officer 2 to 3 hours. There is currently no power of arrest for possession of Class C drugs. Offenders could be dealt with on the spot by the police officer and warned, cautioned or reported for summons.

4. Cannabis is the most widely used drug in all age groups. According to the 2000 British Crime Survey 44 per cent of 16-29 years olds had used cannabis at some time in their life. Twenty-two per cent had used the drug in the last year and 14 per cent had used it within the last month.

5. The ACMD has been asked to report to the Home Secretary within three months. The Home Secretary also wants to take into account the findings of the Home Affairs Select Committee investigation into the Drugs Strategy and the evaluation of the current pilot in Lambeth on policing of cannabis offences. The pilot finishes at the end of December.

6. The public awareness campaign to be launched in December will advertise the National Drugs Helpline as the best source of information for young people about drugs. The campaign's key objective will be to increase awareness amongst young people aged 11-18 years old, their parents and carers of the risks and dangers associated with drug taking.

7. Around 1 million is being allocated from the Confiscated Assets Fund to support a pilot project aimed at disrupting middle markets in the Midlands, the 1-5kg part of the supply chain. The project, involving 4 police forces - West Midlands, West Mercia, Staffordshire and Warwickshire - and other enforcement agencies, will commence in November, and be carefully evaluated. As soon as we have determined the most effective means of targeting this part of the supply chain we will roll it out nationally.

8. The Proceeds of Crime Bill was published on 18 October and will tackle head on the issues of organised trafficking and criminality. The aim of the Bill is to take the profit out of crime and dismantle and disrupt organised crime empires by removing the money that is their motivation and their lifeblood. To achieve this the Government plans to set up an Assets Recovery Agency which will investigate and remove criminal wealth accumulated through criminal activity. Legislation to recover the proceeds of crime will be contained in the Proceeds of Crime Bill.

9. The Department of Health will shortly be announcing full details of the action plan to reduce drug-related deaths.

10. The Home Office and the Department of Health will be bringing together a group of experts to advise on the criteria by which heroin can be prescribed and remove inconsistencies in prescribing practices.

11. The new drug testing provisions were introduced under the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2001. Saliva samples are taken at police stations from people charged under the Theft Act, including burglary and robbery, and with Class A drug offences. It is an offence to refuse to provide a sample, punishable by up to three months in prison or a fine of up to 2,500 or a combination of both. Offenders who test positive will be offered the opportunity to enter treatment and the test results will be provided to the court to assist with bail and sentencing decisions.

12. The Abstinence Order (Responsible Officer)(No.2) Order 2001, specifying the description of persons responsible for supervising an offender subject to a Drug Abstinence Order (DAO), is currently before Parliament. A DAO is a new free standing community order introduced under the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000. Offenders made subject to an order will be required to abstain from misusing specified Class A drugs and undergo drug testing for specified Class A drugs when instructed by the responsible officer. The orders will be piloted along side other drug test provisions in Nottingham, Hackney and Stafford.

13. The Government has made available substantial resources for tackling the problem of drugs misuse. Spending is planned to increase from 700 million in 2000/1 to approximately 1 billion in 2003/4. Of this 234 million will be spent on treatment in 2001/2, rising to over 400 million in 2003/4. In addition to this, 32 million will be spent on young people and prevention work in 2001/2, rising to over 71 million in 2003/4.

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