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Thursday, 10 February, 2000, 16:06 GMT
Are police too soft on hard drugs?

UK drugs czar Keith Hellawell says police should focus on heroin and cocaine dealers, devoting less time to chasing minor cannabis convictions.

He is against decriminalising cannabis. But he says too many people are convicted for possessing it in small amounts - at the expense of efforts to catch Class A drug-dealers.

Has Mr Hellawell finally got his priorities right? Or has he gone soft on cannabis, which some say leads to hard drug-use in many cases?


Saudi Arabia has a very minor "drug" problem. This is mainly due to two reasons. One, the socio-religious structure of the society and two, they chop of the heads of drug dealers. Perhaps herein lies the
Peter Goff, UK
The huge amounts of money involved in the illegal drugs trade, which can lead to corruption in government and the police, would suggest that most resources be targeted at the biggest and most ruthless criminals. God forbid, that I should appear cynical, but could it be that the small time soft-drug user is an easier target and perhaps helps raise arrest and clean-up rates?
Tom, Australia

Obviously cannabis is not on the same level as harder drugs, but to choose not to fight it is a disgusting embarrassment. Having lived in Singapore, I for one can vouch for a system of hard enforcement. Granted the country is smaller but with dedication and not a pathetic defeatist attitude any evil can be removed. Of course cannabis isn't as "bad" as harder drugs but using that as an excuse to essentially keep makes me feel ill and only makes me ask where is this country heading for. Keep it banned and keep that enforced.

Just to point out to those who say that most hard drug users started with cannabis - if you look closely, I think you'll find that most hard drug addicts started with tobacco, alcohol and caffeine. This "turning a blind eye" is a step in the right direction, but it leaves the entire criminal apparatus for selling drugs untouched. If you want to ruin drug cartels, the legalisation and regulation of any substance will do what a thousand Drug Wars cannot.
Aidan Ryder, England

Now if cannabis was to be licensed and sold over the counter we would be depriving the dealers of the cash not to mention new customers
Claire Speirs, Scotland
Its always the same old scare stories from the anti- drugs brigade, 'Drugs are Drugs' they say. Yet when asked to provide evidence of the last death that was directly linked with cannabis they can't. They also claim that cannabis leads to hard drugs, which is absolute rubbish. By not decriminalising we are exposing the young and vulnerable to the harder drugs which are now more widely available and a lot cheaper than they used to be. Now if cannabis was to be licensed and sold over the counter we would be depriving the dealers of the cash not to mention new customers. The money made from licensing and sales could go into the health service or even better, go into rehabilitation for young addicts.
Claire Speirs, Scotland

I have 2 points, one, the World Health Organisation studied Cannabis for 30 years then told the US government that it was less damaging than tobacco, alcohol, etc. Yet they suppressed the report and ignored it. Two, if it wasn't classed as a drug, like tobacco, then I'm sure it wouldn't be treated like one, and besides, there are plenty of legal drugs that will get you far higher than cannabis, they are just not as safe. When will the government understand that now more people than ever want it legal.
Dan, UK

Yes I'm sure there is some evidence that cannabis use can, in a very few cases, be a prelude to heroin or crack use. But then again most people who go on to further education try cannabis and don't end up heroin addicts, but they also have life choices and a future. Oh and the last person who should be commenting on drugs is Ann Widdecombe she is so very out of touch and cannot be taken seriously in an informed debate.
Eddie, UK

The UK drugs industry is worth 8.5 BILLION per year, which is equivalent to Pakistan's annual budget. By not only removing the focus from soft drugs but also legalising them, the government stands to make millions in extra revenue
Trevor Blayney, N. Ireland
The UK drugs industry is worth 8.5 BILLION per year, which is equivalent to Pakistan's annual budget. By not only removing the focus from soft drugs but also legalising them, the government stands to make millions in extra revenue. I don't support the government getting any more money but if they used it right they could sort out the NHS. Ecstasy is another drug that should be looked at - in a decade, there have only been 100 deaths directly related to E across the whole of Europe. That's 100 deaths out of MILLIONS of people across an entire continent using this drug. It's about time the media hysteria subsided and we started looking at things sensibly.
Trevor Blayney, N. Ireland

What a refreshing change! For years I have had the impression that police are targeting cannabis users for arrest simply because they are an easier target than hard drug users, thus the police are able to boost their arrest figures and look like they're doing a good job. At last they are realising that their efforts are misplaced, and they should be going after the drugs that cause the real harm.
Sean, UK

Given the tens of millions of pot smokers in the US, serious enforcement of the anti-drug laws governing hemp would require a Stalinesque police state with the requisite number of informers. If we are to live without that sort of tyranny, the only solution is responsible distribution and use. As things now stand, there is intrinsic unfairness in that the poor and unprivileged bear the brunt of the anti-drug laws, while the middle and upper classes are pragmatic and therefore successful in dissimulating consumption, which accounts for most usage. Both the USA and the UK must engage our society in the discussion of assessment of penalties for drug usage. A war conducted from on high, without debate, causes contempt for the law and is doomed to failure.
Sally Quinn, USA

It makes me laugh every time I read the comments of the anti-cannabis crowd. Instead of presenting factual evidence and arguments based on logic, they must resort to pleas like "drugs are drugs" or "all drugs threaten the moral fabric of society", a claim that is usually "proved" with false or misleading data. Its even funnier when all this comes from a hypocrite who gets drunk or smokes a pack of cigarettes a day, causing himself more harm than he would if he just smoked a joint.
Kryspin Turczynski, USA

It is strange to think that on the dawn of the 21st century people need excitement from different mixes of chemicals. Alcohol, tobacco, cannabis, heroin... they all have an effect.
Lorna, Ireland
Should not drugs only be used for medicinal purposes? It is strange to think that on the dawn of the 21st century people need excitement from different mixes of chemicals. Alcohol, tobacco, cannabis, heroin... they all have an effect. You are what you eat. 'Recreational' drug use is a lie straight from the pit of hell (although I know you don't believe in it anymore). It changes the way minds work! I've seen for myself how strange and weird people become when they take any kind of drug, supposedly for 'enjoyment'. I could hardly talk to them - their words were barely coherent, and their eyes had a gone look, as if they were not really seeing this sad world or me. Please don't allow the people to believe these lies!
Lorna, Ireland

Perhaps the Drug's Tsar should take a lesson from the Book of Tolerance and Enlightenment. Ignorance is what causes the problems he is charged with solving, apart from anything else Look at the statistics and then tell me that cannabis is more dangerous that alcohol. Sir, I trust you are an intelligent soul, who cares about humanity, follow your heart, always!
Ed, UK

We need to recognise that as well as the supply of drugs being a business, the war against drugs also represents a secure career for a great many people. In reality, however, it can de-motivate some people, and it may even lead to mild dependency - milder than cigarette use, for example - but it does not in itself present as social problem on anything like the scale of cocaine or heroin. This is one case where the Drug Tsar knows better than his subordinates.
Jon Livesey, USA

I grimace when I see arguments along the lines of "Most cannabis smokers go on to hard drugs". Utter nonsense. Most people have tried cannabis by the time they are 20, yet how many go on to cocaine etc? Perhaps a more relevant fact might be the millions killed by smoking tobacco each year, and the corresponding figures for other drugs. Tobacco is the "hardest" drug of all.
Andrew Fenton, Scotland

The police are too soft on all drug-taking. Cannabis or cocaine, they are both bad news and use of either is against the law of this country. The police must target ALL drug users and get them locked up.
Dave Browne, UK

I resent the fact that because I occasionally like to relax on a Friday evening after a busy week at work by having the odd joint I am some sort of criminal.
Tristan O'Dwyer, England
I resent the fact that because I occasionally like to relax on a Friday evening after a busy week at work by having the odd joint I am some sort of criminal. If soft drugs lead onto harder drugs, as people have been suggesting, then it is because most people go to drug dealers who sell hard drugs to get their weed.
If this contact was broken, by selling cannabis legally, we would have far less people moving onto hard drugs. The revenue from taxing it could then go to providing more resources to target the real problem... hard drugs.
Tristan O'Dwyer, England

Perhaps the government should think more about the laws on tobacco which kills 100,000 people in Britain alone every year and is highly addicted but which is freely available and legal. Even as a smoker myself (and I am much ashamed at my failed attempts to give up) I would be more than happy to see the government ban tobacco altogether.
Sarah, UK

Mr. Hellawell has it exactly backwards. If either the UK or the US (for that matter) desires to stomp-out drug use they should attack the source of demand instead of the source of supply. When the former dries-up, the latter shall die for "lack of a second".
Frank, USA

I agree with The drugs czar. Cannabis is not a dangerous drug and current legislation criminalises many people for no good reason
Adrian Strain, UK

We should not go any further down the road towards cannabis decriminalisation before recently-commissioned research on driving impairment has been completed.
Peter, UK
We should not go any further down the road towards cannabis decriminalisation before recently-commissioned research on driving impairment has been completed. Many police forces believe that illegal drugs (primarily cannabis) are now a factor in more road accidents than alcohol.
As over 80% of the adult population drive - and presumably the majority of regular cannabis users too - the advocates of legalisation are being highly irresponsible if they do not confront this issue. If we are not careful we will end up making an already serious road safety problem even worse. I'm not saying that cannabis shouldn't ultimately be legalised, or that it has a more serious impact on driving than alcohol, but we need to know the facts.
Peter, UK

An honest society would decriminalise cannabis. Your comment "some say it leads to hard drugs" is without foundation. Statistically, cannabis has, by far, the least negative affect on society. Compare the death rate, domestic abuse, missing work days, traffic fatalities between alcohol and cannabis. Society has a better chance dealing with any problem if it is honest about the facts.
John Tummon, USA

You drink alcohol (too excess), what happens? You get sick, aggressive and get a hangover. You smoke a joint, what happens? You get giggly, eat chocolate and feel fine the next day. I know which I prefer!
Sarah, Ireland

Cannabis use in the Community I live in (East End of London) is considered normal by the majority of people under 40 years of age. It certainly isn't thought of as anything bad. There is a massive black economy resulting from its (and other drugs). This will continue to thrive and (by definition) be controlled by criminals if Britain continues to have such a hypocritical view on drug use.
Ian, UK

In Italy we have the same sort of drug problem as in Britain, but many of my colleagues view the small-time use of soft drugs as concerning but not a major threat. I think it is right that the debate is started as whether people with small amounts of soft drugs for their own use only should be allowed to go free.
Dr. Ursula Gaddicta, Italia

I believe the focus is now quite rightly shifting towards so-called hard-drugs (i.e. cocaine, heroine). I would even like to see a move towards de-criminalization of drug abuse on a European scale. The money now spent to chase wide-spread crime should be spent on prevention through special educational programmes in primary and secondary schools and add campaigns -of a non-patronising kind - aimed at 16-30 year olds. We have lost the battle on the supply side, let's now focus on the demand side...that is something each and everyone of us can and should contribute to.
Arjen van Delden, Netherlands

I have been a Pot user for 20 years, and all I can offer is that I do not take hard drugs, I do not steal, I have a family a mortgage and a serious job.
Iain, UK
I have been a Pot user for 20 years, and all I can offer is that I do not take hard drugs, I do not steal, I have a family a mortgage and a serious job. I don't even go to dealers for my Pot , I grow it myself. I think Decriminalising is a preferable option to Legalising it. That way the user is not tarred with the same brush as hard drug users.
Iain, UK

In Japan, Cannabis is a taboo drug just like any other harder drugs, and many people think it is immoral. In the west, the culture accepts cannabis consumption. Since people socially do not consider cannabis a serious drug in the west (except the drug enforcement people), people do not feel morally wrong to use them. And based on democratic principles, if people do not see something as a crime and the government criminalizes it, the country is not democratic. In the interest of greater democracy, those values that are not considered immoral should be decrimilized including cannabis, in those countries.
Yoshiko Miyazawa, Japan

It's quite extraordinary that there can be so many mislead opinions about cannabis use and it's link to hard drugs. There is no link between hard and soft drugs - that is the dealer myth. Do they really think that just because the drugs are all illegal, that if one can't get hold of some weed, they will just as likely buy a bag of heroin and chow that down instead, not likely!
Baz, Netherlands

South Africa is a haven for cannabis. The main point I am trying to make here is that, not only is it widely available at an extremely low price it does not lead to any major increase in hard drug usage.
If alcohol was re-discovered tomorrow it would be banned outright, the reason being is that it affects a person's physical capabilities. Cannabis does not, it is purely a mental drug along the lines of LSD which is the only other non-addictive drug. Make cannabis legal and at least there can be some control, as well as the levies that can imposed by government. It is widely known that there are some very good therapeutic qualities in cannabis as well as the secondary hemp fibre industry that comes with growing of the plant.
Adrian, South Africa

My experience of friends and family who are cannabis users has shown that most do go on to take cocaine after long term cannabis use (8-10 years). This is not because it is pushed on them but because it gives them a "high" after many years of altering their natural neurotransmitter levels. There are many myths surrounding the use of cannabis, amongst them that it is not addictive, that it is healthier then cigarette smoking and that it is not linked with crime. When hearing the arguments of users, one cannot help comparing with the comments of habitual smokers or addicts of harder drugs. Yes, further research and debate is needed but it must be conducted with an open mind.
Alison, UK

Mr Hellawell's comments are encouraging but little more. Cannabis is a drug used by millions of people of all ages and IS here to stay. Politicians have a big problem with harder drugs, a problem they have largely bought on themselves by their inept policies. To tell young people that drugs, of whatever domination, are evil and will kill is a gross over-exaggeration and assumes that those taking such substances are stupid. Hundreds of thousands, even millions of people take ecstasy every weekend with no ill - and often significant good-effects. Of course, any death is tragic, but if people are told that ecstasy, cocaine and heroin are all bad and, upon taking them, people decide otherwise, why should they trust the people imparting the message? Education and honesty is the only way to progress, although neither attribute seems to be overflowing from many of our politicians.
Tim Johnson, Austria (from England)

I worked for some 7 years as a Customs Officer in the late 1960's early 70's. In my experience then and since not one person who has taken hard drugs started without taking so called soft drugs. Therefore the pathway to hard drugs is via so called soft drugs and the police should work as hard on all fronts. However, I do believe there is a case for de-criminalising cannabis while getting the above message across. Cannabis appears to have benefits for certain types of illness such as MS and we should spend more money researching it's beneficial qualities while still telling everyone that soft drugs lead to hard drugs and on occasions to death. We tell everyone now that smoking can kill so people can make their own choice.
Alan Bowman, United Kingdom

Here in Holland hard drugs are certainly not "prevalent"; in fact countries like France and the UK (who have much tougher drug laws) also have more heroin addicts if you look at the real numbers. And it's not about introducing yet another evil into society either: the recreational, medicinal and religious cannabis has been here for thousands of years already, probably even longer than alcohol.
Mark Strijbos, Netherlands

I feel that cannabis is safer than drinking alcohol as when you drink alcohol you become violent and aggressive whereas taking cannabis makes you relaxed and calm. Therefore I don't see why people say cannabis is a harmful drug. I am a user of the drug and not once have I become violent. It does as much damage as smoking 20 cigarettes a day. So why can't they leave cannabis users alone and get the skag addicts and the dealers who make other peoples lives a misery.
John Cottage, England

It was time to legalise cannabis about twenty years ago, now its way, way overdue. Keith Hellawell is now doing something not only unworkable, but also downright stupid and dangerous. He's telling the police to ignore a criminal law. So cannabis use is now to be illegal, but there will be no enforcement. What this will do though, which is good, is to bring cannabis use out of the shadows and allow it to be visible. Perhaps when it becomes a normal sight to see people skinning up spliffs down the pub, we might get some intelligent policies. The drug war is dead, when will these idiots realise that?
Derek Williams, UK

Soft drugs, yes they should be made legal. If cigarettes can carry accurate tar warnings that can only be achieved by putting the tar in cigarettes, which is the main cause of lung cancer, then Cannabis, which is herbal, is far less harmful than smoking tobacco. Plus the government can put a levy on it.
Simon, England

Saying Cannabis leads to hard drugs is just fiction dreamt up by those who can find no better way of arguing against soft drugs. Anyone who uses cannabis will tell you that the opposite is true. Better still, it has none of the health risks of tobacco and, unlike alcohol, also fails to make one feel sick or aggressive.
Barry, England

Although I don't approve of drugs, if cannabis was legal it would be taken away from underground movements and teenagers would be less rebellious about taking drugs. Here in the USA the legal drinking age is 21, yet legislators here cannot understand why so many teenagers get killed in drink driving!
Douglas, USA (from UK)

How encouraging to read the comments on this page. The consensus of public opinion clearly seems to be moving against the usual approach of tarring all drugs (only the illegal ones, of course) with the same brush. Just as it is now accepted that building roads leads to more traffic, despite the resistance from vested interests, so it is becoming accepted that soft drugs only lead to harder ones because they are illegal. Once a government is prepared to accept this truth and dare to defy the tabloid press, perhaps commons sense will prevail.
James Russell, United Kingdom

While cannabis is dangerous to one's health, the danger is minor compared to the "hard" purified drugs such as cocaine and heroin. It's not much worse than tobacco. Here in the US, minor drug users are locked in prison for cannabis possession whilst real criminals go free. If one wishes to keep it illegal, fine. But reduce it to a minor offence, perhaps resulting in a small fine. Cannabis users damage only themselves. Reduce the penalties and let the legal system deal with those who damage others.
Christopher Strong, USA

Its interesting how many experts we have here claiming that Cannabis is no worse than tobacco. Well even if that was true why introduce another evil into society? However it gets worse. According to studies I have seen it has many harmful effects and is responsible for leading people into hard drugs. Try looking at countries like Holland where its openly available and hard drug addiction is prevalent. In North America recent successes have been aimed at changing the culture that defines dope smokers as 'cool' and rather shows them as 'losers'. In my experience that's about the truth of it. Lets not try and encourage our youth to be a generation of losers.
Andrew Willis, Canada

The police and law enforcement agencies should not give up their fight against "soft" drugs. All drugs are harmful to people and present a threat to society. If "soft" drugs are to remain illegal - and they should - then anyone who sells, possesses or uses them should be arrested and convicted. If "soft" drugs are allowed to be used, then hard drugs will soon follow. The 1920s saw the era of Prohibition of alcohol in the U.S., in which alcohol consumption actually fell, because it was illegal. The police should not soften up in their fight against soft drugs. Drugs are drugs are drugs and they threaten the fabric of society.
Jeff, USA

The battle against cannabis use was lost a long time ago. Most cannabis users are regular normal people who hold down steady jobs and have no desire to try anything harder. The time has come to decriminalise and perhaps legalise cannabis. Still, if they ever do get to this stage, the government will stick so much tax on it, that there will still be smuggling problem, same as with alcohol and cigarettes.
Martin, UK

It seems to me that the 'war' against cannabis is being fought, in the main, by people who have had no real personal experience, not so much in using the drug but of the culture surrounding it. What is needed is an open minded argument taking into accounts both sides of each argument.

I myself am a cannabis user but remain unsure if leagalisation is the right way to approach the argument. There are a whole host of negative factors concerning the drug as well as the positive. We need to be mature about this
D Bowen, Wales

Cannabis leads to harder drugs. Correct. Why? As cannabis is only available on the black market the consumers mix with the criminal fraternity that also sell other drugs. If you could buy cannabis at the local Supermarket (like alcohol & tobacco) then I doubt many users would be presented with the opportunity to buy hard drugs.

Decriminalize it, tax it, and use the proceeds to advertise its harmful effects.
Anon, UK

The problem with keeping a law on the books when it can no longer be properly enforced is that it becomes an instrument of repression, dragged out at the option of the police when they want to harass someone they have no legitimate reason to interfere with.
Iolo Davidson, England

Quite simple really. Legalise cannabis and charge a duty as with drink and fags. There are already laws to cover driving while under the influence of drugs. On hard drugs bring in draconian punishments, no methadone nor prescribed heroin for addicts, let then go "cold turkey".
Steve Foley, England

You are quite right when you say some people claim that cannabis leads to harder drugs. Some people also claim the earth is flat. This does not make it so. It is better to rely on science, and science tells us there is no truth in the 'gateway theory'. It is refreshing to see some common sense coming into the drugs debate. Perhaps soon common sense will creep into government policy, too, and cannabis will be legally regulated and taxed just like alcohol.
John Yates, Finland

This news is great! If nothing else, it defines cannabis as different from heroin and cocaine for joe public. It's a start. The prohibition of cannabis is blocking medical progress in alleviating the hideous symptoms of many diseases. The cannabis plant has hundreds of demonstrated medical and therapeutic uses. It treats rare illnesses as well as common health problems. The safety of medicinal cannabis is phenomenal. The ratio of lethal dose to effective dose is estimated to be 20,000:1. It is one of the oldest plants known to man. The propoganda about cannabis is being dismantled by the truth. Truth endures, evolution reveals all lies.
Ruth Franklin, England

Perhaps we are finally moving to a position where the government and its agencies realise that credibility is an essential weapon in the war on drugs.
Andy White, UK
I support the medical use of cannabinoids for symptom relief in MS etc. As for recreational use it may be less harmful than alcohol & tobacco (if not smoked)
R A Cant, UK

At last a glimmer of hope. Perhaps we are finally moving to a position where the government and its agencies realise that credibility is an essential weapon in the war on drugs. The pretence that all drugs are the same, and/or that cannabis leads to harder drugs by some mysterious mechanism which they are unable to define has left them with no credibility in this area for the vast majority of informed lay people. Maybe now we will eventually see moves towards decriminalising the personal use of cannabis and a move towards a more credible crack down on heroin, cocaine, and other drugs of dependency.
Andy White, UK

I think that Mr Hellawell is bravely and quite rightly addressing one of the key issues concerning "drugs". It makes no practical sense to target soft drug users whilst effectively ignoring hard drug dealers. This is like the Traffic Police targeting those who drive at 31mph in a 30 mph zone, and ignoring those who do 100mph on the motorway. Predictably his comments have led to mixed party political responses - a knee jerk reaction (Conservative Ann Widdecombe) and a non-committal response (Labour Mo Mowlam). What is needed is a proper examination of what works and what doesn't as far as drugs laws are concerned. We don't need yet another public inquiry which will get us nowhere - more a white paper. I think that the Dutch approach is both effective and practical, and as a regular cannabis user, one that I would support.
Anonymous, England

Cannabis is safer than alcohol or tobacco. Making it illegal is hypocritical. Politicians know this, but they will not do anything because they are so afraid of the tabloid press. It makes you wonder who is really running this country. I feel that being prevented from taking my favourite substance for no good reason is an unacceptable interference in my life, which I bitterly resent. The main argument against Cannabis seems to be that it leads users to harder drugs, but the reason for this is that the only place Cannabis can be obtained is from your friendly neighbourhood drug dealer, who will quite likely try to push a variety of other interesting substances as well. If coffee was illegal then that would also lead users to harder drugs, for the same reason.
Pat M, UK

I am pro decriminalisation of cannabis. I believe Mr Hellawells statement is a step in the right direction. Millions of people use cannabis every day and they are just average citizens like you and I. We should concentrate our efforts on reducing the use and supply of much harder and dangerous drugs, such as heroin and crack.
Lee Harris, UK

Although not condoning the use of cannabis, clearly going after cocaine, crack and other hard drug distributors and users, as a priority, is clearly the right approach. If only the police would take a similar approach with other crimes and misdemeanours ...
Mark M. Newdick, USA/UK

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See also:
05 Feb 00 |  UK Politics
Hellawell: Relax cannabis policing
10 Jan 00 |  UK
Drugs 'fill void for computer generation'
08 Jun 99 |  UK Politics
Drug czar backs medical cannabis
09 Jun 99 |  UK Politics
The drug czar answers your questions
25 May 99 |  UK
Heroin 'epidemic' in rural Britain
19 May 98 |  Drugs
The heroin epidemic

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