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Wednesday, 22 May, 2002, 15:56 GMT 16:56 UK
Ecstasy law change ruled out
Clubbers celebrate on Millennium Eve
Many clubbers take ecstasy every week
Calls from a powerful MPs' committee for dance drug ecstasy to be downgraded in an overhaul of drugs laws have been rebuffed by ministers.

Home Secretary David Blunkett said moving ecstasy from class A to class B is not on the government's agenda, but he welcomed other parts of the study.

Main recommendations
Downgrade ecstasy to class B
Move cannabis to class C
Create new offence of "supply for gain"
Heroin prescription trial for addicts
Pilot safe heroin galleries
No to legalisation or decriminalisation
In Wednesday's report, MPs on the Home Affairs committee backed Mr Blunkett's moves to make cannabis a class C drug.

They also recommended trials of heroin prescription programmes for addicts and the provision of safe injecting rooms for heroin users.

The home secretary rejected the proposal for so-called 'shooting galleries' for drug injectors.

The committee said the past 30 years showed policies based mainly on enforcement were bound to fail and more stress must be put on treating addicts.

But it stopped short of pressing for any illegal drugs to be legalised or decriminalised.

Drug differences

They said such a move would inevitably result in a "significant increase in the number of users, especially among the very young".

Committee chairman Chris Mullin urged the government to "follow the science" when it came to their drug policies.

There was "no point in pretending that ecstasy was as harmful as heroin" and to suggest it was would undermine the credibility of drugs advice handed out to children.

Mr Mullin - a former Labour minister - insisted that nobody was suggesting ecstasy could not be dangerous and stressed that class B drugs still carried stiff penalties for dealers and users.

David Blunkett, Home Secretary
David Blunkett welcomes the general thrust of the report

"All drug taking is bad for you and should be discouraged but we need to get real and focus on the 200 to 250,000 or so problematic drug users ... who mainly use heroin," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

The committee's recommendation that ecstasy should become a class B drug would put it on the same level as the current classification for cannabis and amphetamines.

'Totally misinformed'

The reclassification would reduce the maximum sentence for those found carrying ecstasy from seven years to five.

Those supplying or making the drug would be jailed for 14 years at most rather than facing the current possible life prison term.

The report prompted Janet Betts, whose daughter Leah died after taking ecstasy, to accuse the committee of being "totally misinformed".

Mrs Betts urged Prime Minister Tony Blair to "have the balls" to stick by his pledge not to downgrade the drug.

Leah Betts
Leah Betts died after taking ecstasy
Mr Blunkett stuck by that pledge in his response to the MPs' report.

"Ecstasy can, and does, kill unpredictably and there is no such thing as a safe dose," said the home secretary.

"I believe it should remain class A. Reclassification of ecstasy is not on the government's agenda."

Mr Blunkett did, however, welcome the report as "thought provoking" and said it was right to urge a new focus on reducing the harm caused by drugs.

'Shooting galleries'

The home secretary wants more heroin made available on prescription.

But he urged caution on how far this should be extended - the MPs want trials of carefully supervised prescription, as happens in the Netherlands and Switzerland.

That idea is part of the committee's drive to focus on Britain's 250,000 "problem" drug users, who need 13,000 a year from crime to feed their habit.

The MPs also want a new offence of "supply for gain" to be introduced to draw a new distinction between dealers and those who give drugs to friends for personal use.

The report has been welcomed by civil rights groups and some drugs charities.

Roger Howard, chief executive of charity DrugScope, said it represented the next steps for UK drugs laws.

The BBC's Margaret Gilmore reports from Durham
"A decade ago, drugs weren't a problem here"
The BBC's Niall Dickson
"The government regards ecstasy as dangerous and unpredictable"

Key stories


See also:

22 May 02 | UK Politics
22 May 02 | UK Politics
21 May 02 | Education
01 Mar 02 | Education
22 May 02 | Scotland
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