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Monday, 27 May, 2002, 08:44 GMT 09:44 UK
Should Britain's drugs laws be changed?
An influential committee of MPs has said that Britain's drug laws should be radically amended.
In their report, the MPs from the Home Affairs committee recommended that ecstasy should become a class B drug which would put it on the same level as the current classification for cannabis and amphetamines.
The reclassification would reduce the maximum sentence for those found carrying the dance drug from seven years to five.
The MPs suggested that that cannabis should be made a class C drug.
They also recommended trials of heroin prescription programmes for addicts and the provision of safe injecting rooms for heroin users.
Have government policies of the last thirty years failed to work? Should the emphasis be on treatment rather than punishment? Do Britain's drug laws need to be overhauled?
This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
The idea that we should legalise something simply because we cannot prevent it is ridiculous. We're not doing very well at preventing burglary, but that¿s not a good reason to legalise burglary. Drugs should stay illegal because they are harmful. If we legalise them, we will not be able to reverse that decision once we discover what a bad idea it was.
As an 18 year old, I am surrounded by the many points of view but I am opposed to all drugs. Those who claim that cannabis is harmless are misguided and naive, basing their opinion on hearsay and gossip. Research shows that it does have powerful effect on the body disrupting and destroying areas of the temporal and frontal lobes of the cerebral cortex of the brain. In addition, it disrupts, corrupts and destroys the alveoli in the lungs. It cannot be legalised and taxed as anyone can grow it, turning any attempt to obtain fiscal dues into a farce.
Chris, England: The people that are arguing that cannabis should be legalised are the people that have tried it - that is not hearsay - you cannot say, at the age of 18 that others are naive. I would say it is the other way round, mate.
How many people die from alcohol related deaths each year? Thousands? Tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands worldwide? Yet that is OK because it is a nice socially acceptable, taxable, drug. Over the last decade more people have died from eating peanuts than from ecstasy. 36 people were killed last year by the drug - out of 500,000 takers every weekend that's a pretty small number. It is about time the drug policies of this country were addressed, but addressed by people who know what they are talking about, not the media with their scare stories and not the government with its hypocrisy!
How many cigarette smokers recognise that they're drug addicts and yet still disapprove of someone taking heroin or any drug for that matter? Do they think that their habit has more validity that someone else's? I would love to hear their argument. Basically legalise them all or ban them all, including alcohol and tobacco.
Pat Duncan, UK
Who among you has the right to tell me what drug I can or cannot take in my own home? You allow me to drink, you allow me to smoke cigarettes. Yet, some of you would jail me if I smoked a joint. Unbelievable.
If I choose to take ecstasy on the weekend and I harm no-one while doing it, why is it wrong? No victim, no crime in my opinion. I know the dangers and I know they are slight and I choose to take it anyway. It's nobody's business but mine. The people who have never taken drugs seem to preach to other about them.
The problem with legalising drugs is that the dealers will not go away; they'll supply something stronger that could have more tragic consequences if taken. Drugs should stay illegal!
I think most people, except MPs it seems, accept that cannabis is less harmful that alcohol. The argument that cannabis leads to harder drugs, in my onion is totally naive. People have to ask themselves why people who have taken cannabis try harder drugs. Speaking from experience, as a curious 17 year old, I tried cannabis and have smoked it occasionally ever since .This was partly out of curiosity, partly because it was illegal and so expected something more than what it was. I went on to try LSD as it was offered to us by a dealer saying we would get an "out of this world experience". I doubt I am alone in giving in to temptation with offers from dealers to try harder drugs.
If cannabis was legal I don't think you would have the same amount of youngsters experimenting and, in turn experimenting with harder drugs. I must had I have never touched LSD since I was 18 but do enjoy a good spliff.
No to drugs. There are enough problems with alcohol. If permitting also narcotics, this society will accept the increasing risks to offer many more now functioning people to end up in a sort of chemical prison. This is no question about morals. This is a question about if you're insane or not.
Richard Boesch, the height of British influence was in fact just before the Victorian era. Perhaps our decline could have been avoided if our nations finest had taken less drugs (and absinthe).
Lewis Clifford, UK
Great! Legalise dope then we'll have even more drug crazed people roaming the streets causing havoc and contributing to the continuing breakdown of law and order. This Government wants to start putting criminals in jail and police on the street.
The Victorian period was the peak of British power and influence. It was also a time when anybody could walk into a chemist's shop and buy any amount of cocaine, morphine, opium, cannabis etc. Almost all of the period's (and current) great artists, writers and poets took drugs which would now make them criminals.
Sam Parry, UK
It's great to see that MPs and others have finally come into the real world. The drug laws have to be changed because at the minute they are an absolutely mockery. People claim that softer drugs like cannabis are "gateway" drugs, but if this is true then it's because successive governments made it that way. So many young people have grown up being told that cannabis is bad yet when they've tried it they've found out it is relatively harmless, more so than alcohol.
There is no doubt that the laws on drugs in this country should be reviewed. There are so many conflicting messages being put out by so many organisations that the public have become desensitised to the whole issue. People are more aware of the implications of drug taking than ever before but have no clear message about what the law is. I don't believe it is a matter of IF drugs will ever be declassified or legalised, it is a matter of WHEN. Until then, public apathy and political confusion will continue to baffle us all and water down whatever message is being sent by the governing bodies.
Stewart McD, Scotland
It's time drug policy was shaped on the basis of what the consequences of use of each type of drug are. In social terms I doubt that cannabis is more harmful than alcohol. In fact, knowing the effect that alcohol has on a lot of people, particularly young men, cannabis use is socially quite benign. Resources need to be devoted to ridding this country of the scourges of heroin and crack cocaine, which cost the country and individuals enormously. Carrying on the fiction that cannabis is a seriously dangerous drug just diverts resources from where they are so evidently needed.
Users are more of a problem than dealers. Users are walking adverts and promoters of their drug. Users spread the idea and culture of drug taking. Lock up all the dealers and addicts will continue to grow in number. Lock up all the addicts and addict numbers will drop to minimal numbers overnight.
Brad, if you locked up the country's drug users, half the population of the country would be in jail!
If David Blunkett is going to say that Ecstasy should stay as a Class A drug, because it kills, then surely he should be looking at upgrading the classification for Alcohol, and Nicotine. They, too, have been proved to kill, and at a more alarming rate than ANY of the restricted drugs that are currently outlawed
Yes, we do need a change in drug laws. They need to be made much stricter than they are now, with much harsher penalties for all offenders - be they user or dealer. Users should be jailed and treated for their addiction, dealers should be jailed and all their assets seized. Under no circumstances should any drugs be made legal. There is no such thing as a "soft" drug!
If each of 250,000 "problem" heroin addicts is stealing around £13,000 to fund their habit, that equates to millions of pounds worth of goods stolen, matched by millions on police time, millions claimed on insurance etc. All this money comes from somewhere - our taxes, our insurance premiums, our houses, cars, wallets and even the price of goods in shops which have to allow for shoplifting. If we take even half of those addicts out of the dealers hands and give them prescription heroin, a safe place to use it so they can't sell it on, and access to help then, compassion aside, it will more than pay for itself.
Keep Cannabis illegal to carry and supply unless licensed. Grant licences to cafe's like they do in Amsterdam. Drop Ecstasy from a 'B' to a 'C' and get the government or even club owners to set up Ecstasy pill 'testing' stations in clubs etc ( - like they do, I believe, in Sweden). I believe that many drug users start by experimenting young, and they experiment young because they think it is 'cool' to be doing something illegal..
The hard line approach does not work. It only wastes money and ruins lives. People are not stupid. We should be more concerned with helping others make informed decisions. And if no harm is caused to others or society I should have the right to chose without being branded a criminal.
I used to work in the criminal justice system, and it is true that most thefts and burglaries are committed by desperate junkies. Legalisation would reduce crime levels enormously, and would enable government control of drugs, making them safer and less glamorous. Prohibition never works. Stop enriching the drug dealers. Legalise - and educate about the dangers.
Surely our drugs law should be based on an empirical pragmatism - pretty much everyone would say that drug laws should be aimed at reducing drug-related crime, reducing deaths due to taking drugs, and reducing drug use overall. To my mind these three aims lead to three policies - prescription for addicts (no muggings or theft to pay for the drugs, less deaths due to cut drugs), safe houses for users (less HIV transmission/overdose deaths), and expanded treatment and education programs to get people off drugs. However, each of these options should be explored with carefully controlled trials, so that drug policy can be based on the known outcomes of certain approaches and not on knee-jerk morality or press scare-mongering. The fact is we don't know whether the policies above will work, but we do now for sure that the criminal justice approach is completely failing to achieve the goals.
I support decriminalisation of drug abusers. Most drug abusers are, unfortunately, considered the cause of the problem and not the result. Obviously there is a lucrative market out there for people who wish to make a quick buck out of someone's curiosity or weakened state of mind when considering the use of drugs. I am against drugs one hundred percent and everything should be done to keep people away from them. However, the problem remains and something needs to be done. Rather than focus Police time and energy on abusers why are we not trying to keep the drugs out of the country. I think that stemming the availability of drugs in the country should be the emphasis we adopt. More should be done to stop the production and the import of drugs.
I took E for a couple of years in my late teens. The only side effects that I'm left with are fond memories of some great nights out. I now have a well paid job and own my own house and would suggest to anyone claiming that E causes harmful brain damage that they try it for themselves and discover all the positive effects that it can have on your life in the long as well as short-term.
If drugs like E & cannabis were legalized then perhaps there would be less violence on the streets of every town & city centre caused by drunken yobs every Friday & Saturday night.
Just to get things in proportion, here are the government statistics for the UK for the year 2000:
Drugs are a detriment to society no matter how you look at it. Anyone taking drugs is a threat to society and the individuals around them. This levelling system for drugs should be cancelled. If you are dealing any type of drug there should be a minimum sentence and if you are caught in possession there should be another minimum. Drug dealers/users can not be offered ways out, they must be forced to rehabilitate.
Tom , UK
If cannabis is to be legalised then the law should make sure that the cannabis sold has been developed and produced by certified technicians. If they are to legalise a drug they also have to accept the responsibility of making sure it is traded properly. It is not cannabis which is the danger - it's the way it's produced which poses the dangers.
Again all drugs are being grouped and discussed together. This is the main problem with education and laws regarding drugs in this country. I believe that Cannabis should be legalized rather than downgraded. Perhaps more people would use or experiment with cannabis, but they would be far less likely to try other illegal and more harmful drugs. People always have and always will want to relax and have a break from reality using intoxicating substances. At least if we were offered the opportunity to use the safer (least harmful) substances in safer environments we would be a healthier society. As for ecstasy, this is another matter all together, Ecstasy kills, is addictive, causes depression and other psychological problems, not to mention any physical damage it may cause.
Leah Betts died from drinking too much water, rather than from 'killer pills'. As long as the government tries to brush the issue of drugs under the carpet, more young people will die from being denied the basic information - such as with regards to drinking water. The government has to wake up to the fact that people do and will continue to take drugs.
I don't think the report goes far enough as far as cannabis is concerned. Cannabis is no worse that alcohol and tobacco, and even under class C, users still face prison. This is wrong, it is not a gateway drug, in fact it is easier to statistically prove a casual link between early alcohol use and hard drug use.
I don't know what the answer is, but it's clear repression doesn't work. It didn't work for the US during Prohibition, it doesn't work for guns (we have the toughest gun laws in our history, combined with the highest level of gun crime), and it isn't working for drugs.
Perhaps part of the answer is to create a society where people feel proud of themselves, and have self-respect, without having to resort to chemicals.
Statistically, taking ecstasy is safer than fishing. This is a hard fact. But my position on drugs comes down to two questions? Does it affect me? No. Is it in the hands of organised crime? Yes. Legalise it, then, for its current status is as dangerous as it can be.
The fact is that many people use recreational drugs in a sensible, adult way and still contribute towards society in a productive way by working for a living. A new system should be introduced whereby recreational users can obtain their drug of choice after seeing a GP and a lifestyle counsellor. If there are no medical or emotional reasons why a person should take a recreational substance then I believe they should then be allowed a monthly allowance. It is only in this way that you can start to provide support, health checkups, education and also guarantee quality, and therefore safety, for people wishing to make that adult choice.
Cannabis is very different from ecstasy, which in turn is a million miles from heroin and crack cocaine. People who talk of 'drugs' being damaging are greatly oversimplifying what is in fact a complex issue. It is time for our response to this issue to become more sophisticated, enabling us to target the substances which do real harm to our society.
A note to Noel, UK: Amsterdam's Coffee Shops are in no way linked to Prostitution. The Red light district was there long before the first coffee shop opened. By definition it is the oldest profession in the world. There is crime in Amsterdam but there is in every city in the world. People who are stoned are in no way violent, they would rather stay inside and chill... whilst alcohol fuelled rioters cause havoc around Europe. The only crime associated with cannabis anywhere is the law itself, which makes everybody associated a criminal. Decriminalisation is a stupid half measure that ends up causing more grief than good. We need to legalise any drug completely so it can be regulated and taxed to counter measure any harm that it may do, which in the case of cannabis should not be much at all!
As long as there are users, there will be dealers. It's wrong to legalise something just because it can't be policed properly. Education and stiffer penalties for all concerned is the way forward. The alternative is surely a 'stoned' nation with even worse crime and lower standards!
Downgrading is not the answer. I've seen the effects of so-called less serious drugs; paranoia, mood swings and confusion in a person close to you is not something anyone should suffer because of a "recreational" drug.
Re: "Ed Sweetman, England", paranoia, mood swings and confusion are not only the result of drugs, they can happen even without alcohol. I'd like to see more support for such mental and emotional breakdowns regardless of the status of drug law.
A friend died due to a heroin overdose so he counted as a "drugs death". In practice, he was really a "breakdown death" who used a needle rather than a train, a gas oven or a noose. He'd lost control of his life and THEN turned to drugs, not the other way around. Don't blur the issue by pretending that only drugs cause heartbreak and despair.
There ARE health risks to taking E, but when you consider that millions of these pills have been taken every weekend since the late 80s, the fact that there is not a single proven death related to their consumption makes one wonder what all the fuss is about. The approach adopted by successive governments since of demonising all drugs is completely counter-productive. Kids experiment with E and cannabis and soon realise that they're not being turned into psychopaths They then draw the conclusion that the powers-that-be don't have a clue about this aspect of modern culture and may be tempted to move on to genuinely dangerous and addictive drugs like heroin or crack. Downgrade Ecstasy, cannabis and cocaine, perhaps even decriminalise them; then target the dealers who remain, who will only be peddling heroin and crack.
I seem to recall recent press coverage about the rising crime rates among young people in the UK, and a substantial cause of this was drugs related. Now the British Government is to relax the drugs laws?? Mayor Giuliani cleaned up New York with a "zero-tolerance" policy. This was publicised in the UK. Did the British Government learn nothing from this?
Rod Garr, USA, asks why we don't take former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's zero tolerance approach to drugs. In my view, Giuliani's approach only drove drugs underground in New York, not actually solved the real problems. Anyway, zero tolerance for people smoking cannabis is just too harsh. Let's give this new approach a chance.
Why not tax it and supply it like alcohol? supervised by licensed people, who can be prosecuted, have a licence revoked for supply to minors or people incapacitated. I think they serve beverages in England like this? The out of sight out of mind situation doesn't work. Tax it and have the government earn from it rather than spend our money.
Yes, people do die from ecstasy but people also die from drinking or smoking cigarettes. I know that "one death is one to many" but if you apply that to drugs then you should apply it to drink and cigs and make them illegal also. Considering how many ecstasy pills are taken every weekend in nightclubs etc. (It must be in the millions) the percentage of pills taken /deaths must be relatively low, the same as drink and cigs. If the drugs are out there educate the users as to the dangers but don't make them feel that if something goes wrong they can't get medical help for fear of being arrested.
Yes, it is time for a change. It is time to toughen up the already lax drug laws. The law must be there to upkeep values, morals and people's health, not to pander to the weak, sad and hopeless. It is a sad state of affairs that we have got to a stage where we feel that relaxing the laws would get them in line with reality. Whose reality? Not mine, thank you.
I lost one of my closest friends that I knew since primary school through heroin. The government need to face up to the fact that there is a major problem and many people are suffering. Surely the health and well being of the nation should be Blair's major concern? Blair needs to prove he deserves this second term in power. He should start doing that by tackling drugs before hundreds more people like myself lose friends and relatives.
Legalise the whole lot. This will remove all the dealers from the streets and if people want to buy drugs at least they know what they are getting. If they want to kill themselves let them. Our society already allows people to smoke and drink themselves to death - why not drugs.
Every weekend there are millions of people taking ecstasy throughout the country. These people are not criminals and should not be labelled so.
John, England: You are horribly misinformed if you believe ecstasy is no more harmful than alcohol or nicotine. Ecstasy is one of the most harmful drugs on the market today. It's not too far removed from LSD. Before you have a chance to harm others with your bad information, I suggest you view a CAT scan of someone who has taken ecstasy only a few times. The doctor will be happy to point out the permanent, irreversible brain damage and reduced brain activity.
David Ancol, NYC: It's actually you who are misinformed, and your comments show how difficult it is to dispel the drug myths that make young people so sceptical of "expert" advice. The research you have seen on the long term effects of ecstasy use has been seriously called into question, as reported on BBC News online (click here).
No one's saying it is safe, but there is currently no evidence of long-term damage.
Our drugs laws are way out of date and our kids are far more knowledgeable than we give them credit for. It's ridiculous to try propagating a generic message that says "all drugs are dangerous" - people know that this is just not the case. Despite the occasional tragic deaths, you can't equate ecstasy with crack or heroin.
Why does this nation always want to give things to people who have not earned them? As far as I am concerned you can declassify all drugs and use the policing resources released to better effect. But as for safe injecting rooms or any other special treatment for druggies - forget it. I am sick of my taxes being squandered on pandering to the useless.
Instead of downgrading these drugs we should be getting tougher on those who take them. Downgrading and giving people shorter sentences will only send out the message that it is alright to take drugs. How is this going to impact on the shock tactics planned for schools? It seems to me that it's a case of mixed messages. We should get tough on those who take drugs of any kind. Lock them up. No room in prisons? Build some more.
Opinions like Louise's are actually quite dangerous. It criminalises people who think or live different to her ideas. As some drugs are not more harmful than other legal drugs (alcohol, etc.), it rises the question why we allow dealers to get rich without paying tax and push the users of some drugs into illegality. I believe alcohol and nicotine are much bigger killer than all other drugs put together, but as these drugs are being taxed it's okay.
Louise has missed the point. The lock 'em up policy does not work. The users are not the problem, it's the dealers. Laws should be changed to focus more on catching producers and dealers of drugs than targeting casual users.
Something has to be done to shift the emphasis from users to dealers. At present the police will always take the easy option just to make the crime figures look better.
22 May 02 | UK Politics
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