Home Office Press Release 255/2001, 23
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ISSUE AFTER HOME SECRETARY STATEMENT TO HOME AFFAIRS SELECT
COMMITTEE ON TUESDAY 23 OCTOBER 2001
TO FOCUS ON THE MENACE OF HARD DRUGS
Home Secretary today underlined the Government's determination
to combat the scourge of Class A drugs such as heroin
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.
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;
New guidance on prescribing heroin; and
The roll-out of drug testing programmes.
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.
Home Secretary said:
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
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.
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.
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."
would be quite different from decriminalisation or legalisation.
Cannabis would remain a controlled drug and using it a
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
The Department of Health will shortly be announcing full
details of the action plan to reduce drug-related deaths.
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.
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
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.
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.