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Programme highlights Wednesday, 7 February, 2001, 14:32 GMT
Government dismisses landmark drug inquiry
Drug protest in Parliament Square
Governments are afraid of appearing soft on drugs
The government is "mistaken and complacent" in its response to the Police Foundation report on Britain's drugs laws.

That was the unambiguous response of Dame Ruth Runciman, who chaired the 2-year inquiry.


The government's response is mistaken, curiously complacent and poorly argued in so far as it is argued at all

Dame Runciman
The report was published last March, and it recommended radical changes to the law on the use of cannabis, ecstasy and LSD. Ecstasy and LSD, it suggested, should be reduced from Class A drugs to Class B.

And, most significantly, the inquiry team wanted cannabis to become a Class C drug.

The effect of this would be to remove the threat of prison from users: instead they would face cautions and fines - not exceeding 500 - and they would not attract a criminal record.

Back burner

In the 315 days since publication, Dame Runciman has expressed a growing sense of frustration at the silence from Whitehall.

Until now, apart from expressing general concern about the proposals, ministers have refrained from offering a formal response.

Drugs rally
Popular support for decriminalising cannabis is growing
The government's critics have assumed that Labour's coyness was caused by the fear of accusations that they were soft on drugs - and that this explained the lengthy wait.

Today, finally, ministers have been forced into the open, after the All-Party Home Affairs Select Committee exercised its right to insist on a response.

As expected, all the most radical ideas on classification and criminal penalties have been rejected.

"The government," it says, "does not support the inquiry's recommendations on the reclassification of cannabis, ecstasy and LSD."

'Not surprised'

A Labour member of the Home Affairs Select Committee, David Winnick, said he was not surprised - and that it was hard for the Government to adopt a radical approach on drugs so close to the election.

This analysis was echoed by the Liberal Democrat spokesman, Simon Hughes, whose party wants to to see a Royal Commission established to investigate the whole issue.

But the author of the report, Dame Runciman, could not contain her disappointment.


This is a good report, has staying power - and its time will come

Dame Runciman
She told the World at One, "We believe that the Government's response is mistaken, curiously complacent and poorly argued in so far as it is argued at all."

She was particularly disappointed in the Government's approach to the cannabis issue.

"Our recommendations on cannabis were by far the most far-reaching and they were meant to be, because we think that that is where the law is, in a sense, most defective."

Dame Runciman said she hoped that the Government would reconsider its response once the general election was out of the way.

"I really have this perhaps over-optimistic view that a good report, and this is a good report, has staying power and that its time will come," she said.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Chairwoman of the inquiry report, Dame Ruth Runciman
The report's conclusions are "balanced, constructive and sensible"
Lib Dem Home Affairs Spokesman Simon Hughes
"The government have always had a tendency to a 'just say no' policy"
David Winnick of the Home Affairs Select Committee
Many law-abiding people are criminalised by taking cannabis
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