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Tuesday, 4 April, 2000, 12:55 GMT 13:55 UK
Should the law be relaxed on 'soft drugs'?
Do you think people should go to prison for possession of cannabis or ecstasy? A report by the influential Police Foundation recommends a re-classification of the two drugs to reflect the risks they pose.
UK drug czar Keith Hellawell thinks prison should remain the final available sanction for those caught in possession of drugs, including cannabis. However others say the view that all drugs are as harmful as each other drastically needs updating.
What do you think - should the law reflect more relaxed attitudes towards "soft drugs", or do you think easing the penalties for cannabis and ecstasy possession would make harder drugs like cocaine and heroin more acceptable? Send us your views and experiences.
Look... When was the last time anyone heard of a man going out, smoking a joint with his mates and going home to beat the hell out of his wife and kids. Most people have never heard of that happening yet every week, in many households up and down the country, that is precisely what happens after a good old 'booze up' at the local watering hole.
The UK will go down the tubes if this law is passed.
If cannabis or ecstasy were proved
to be harmful, this would be another
sensible reason for legal regulation.
I don't accept that it's a
good idea to allow criminals to
continue to control these markets.
I think drugs are a big problem and legalisation won't help. But it's the ideal dirty resource for politicians. They could do dirty business with your health.
I don't understand why everyone
seems so keen on this stuff. The
argument seems to be that it's just
a herb that helps you relax, but if
that's all people want then there are
plenty of herbs like camomile or
valerian which aren't illegal,
don't have to be smoked and don't
cloud the brain, you can even
drink infusions of them at work,
but the impression I get is that
relaxation and clarity of mind is
not really what they're
after - more the buzz
of doing something illegal and of
getting stoned - and that's just
"I do not use drugs", what you never use alcohol?
Or nicotine, caffeine, etc? Pubs and "kick-out time" in the UK is lesson enough about the effects of "socially acceptable" drugs.
I think that drugs should be legalised. There are many people who use drugs and I know for a fact that they will always be around. As long as the person under the influence is using the drug in their own home. He/she should be given the right to do whatever they desire as long as it is in their own home.
People are going to take drugs like cannabis and ecstasy whether or not it's illegal. So I think its better if they are regulated and taxed by the government to avoid problems with the drugs being contaminated or laced with things like rat poison. And this way we would also manage to almost completely cut out the criminals who are making money smuggling and dealing the drugs.
Whilst I know this does apply to many (sic), we do not generally make the same assumption about taking a first drink. Any legalisation of soft drugs must be accompanied by a very clear educational campaign (funded from the revenue of their sale) much as we try to educated people about the evils of drink and smoking. Whilst recognising we must have some controls exercised on us (if only to keep the odd hospital bed free for the genuinely victim of non-self-inflicted illnesses) we should be able to exercise some of our own judgement...please?
It seems strange that an offence is or has been routinely committed by millions of people in this country which could result in their imprisonment if they were caught for a single instance of possession? Is there any other class of offence where this situation is the case? And where by common consent the crime is victimless and the offence possibly completely harmless? Just how many stalwarts of society in their youth have been guilty - Ministers, MPs, Chief Executives or Directors of public companies, JPs, lawyers, even police officers. Perhaps the law would become unsustainable if they were "outed".
Perhaps that is the only way that the hypocrisy can be exposed.
Drug laws do no more for us than prohibition did for USA: stop wasting my taxes. Decriminalise not legalise - I don't see why I should start paying tax on what has always been a tax-free pleasure.
So anon feels that those of us against change know little about the subject. I am against any change at all and feel all drugs should be class A. My sister started dabbling with the so called safe drug cannabis at 15 by the time she was 17 she was a heroin addict in an ever decreasing spiral of crime and squalor. All drugs should be illegal and anyone found dealing, supplying or cultivating any drug should get 10 years for the first offence. Extremist maybe, but necessary to rid our country and its youth of this disgusting evil.
Simon Thomas, Jersey
The government resists calls for a Royal Commission because it (and senior civil servants) know that it will shatter every piece of bogus information that has driven drug policy since the 1930s.
If, however, there was a commercial lobby in favour of legalising cannabis, I suspect it would be made legal and patented within months.
The police acknowledge that the law as it stands is unenforceable and senior officers must be congratulated on their pragmatism. Maybe one day, the politicians will also acknowledge public opinion and change a law which unnecessarily criminalises otherwise law-abiding people.
The government will never class cannabis and E as a softer drug. Vote winning is their agenda and that means no change. Remember, alcohol and cigarettes are OK because the government can earn billions from them out of tax. Why not legalise C & E and place a high tax on it? Then if people have any money left after income tax and VAT they can contribute to the government's purse in another way! At least this way, you may know what you are buying.
Since when have cannabis, which is only known as harmless, and ecstasy, which has been shown to be very dangerous, been put into the same boat?
I moved to the Netherlands 5 years ago when I was 16 and I was amazed by the attitude to drugs here. In Holland people are educated about drugs and their effects. Throughout secondary school in Glasgow I saw a lot of drug use and also had a lot of pressure to try it, over here there was none of that. Okay I saw people using dope but was never once pressured into using it or any other drugs, the people are relaxed about it and see the benefits of their system. The Dutch system has been shown to work and Holland has one of the lowest hard drug abuse rates in Europe, while tolerating cannabis use. Coffee shops in Amsterdam are specifically geared towards tourists and they come in their droves and what happens, we the people who live here benefit because the government gets to tax those owning coffee shops and plough the money back into the community. I just wish people would stop being so judgmental and open their eyes to education. It is the only way, and for those of you that think I am a pothead think again, I don't, because I never felt the need to. Look to the Dutch because they are obviously doing something right.
The thing that annoys me most about this debate is those who are against any change don't know much about the subject, let alone have any experience of the drugs involved. As a long time Cannabis user I would love to be able to grow a couple of plants for use in cooking - I would then seriously consider giving up tobacco (and alcohol isn't something I use regularly anyway!)
(By the way, I am over 40, earn £30 per hour in my employment and don't have a criminal record!)
Conall Bullock, United Kingdom
All illicit drugs should be legalised immediately, as this is the only way that the criminals who profit from others addictions will be stopped. Whilst recreational drugs remain illegal, the opportunity to make a lot of money for doing relatively little will continue to be exploited by the less scrupulous members of our society. Take away the unfeasible profit margins that drug traffickers enjoy (even tax it and then spend the resulting revenue on any health costs that arise from its use!) and the crime, misery and problems that surround drugs would pretty much be wiped out.
Prohibition of any substance does not seem
to work. It seems to me that we now have
with the current set of illicit drugs,
a similar situation to that 'enjoyed' in the US
during the time of the prohibition.
That is to say, a crime subculture supported
by the demand for drugs. Take away the prohibition
and the problem may well go away.
It's time that the politicians
that run the nanny-state woke up and legalized
the consumption of all recreational drugs. This would enable
more help to be given to users as required,
rather than treating them as villains.
Sue Packard, UK
The law should be relaxed on ALL drugs. I couldn't care less if people want to turn their brains into mashed potatoes in search of some sort of illusive nirvana. I do care that old women get hit on the head by social inadequates seeking funds to line the pockets of sawn-off little Hitlers growing fat on the proceeds. Open your eyes.
I'm a grandfather who smoked cannabis daily for over 30 years. Yet it was a legal drug, alcohol, which shortened my parents' lives. More people die from peanut allergies than ecstasy. The government seems to suffer from tunnel vision and is petrified of sending out the wrong message - or altering the status quo. Totally lacking in courage. Oh, the hypocrisy! I gave up smoking altogether 3 years ago. It was the addictive drug nicotine that gave me the hardest time trying to quit.
Ross Marnie, Scotland
The line has to be drawn somewhere.
If 'soft drugs' became legal then the
now 'hard drugs' will be termed 'soft
drugs' and a campaign will then start
to legalise those too. People may scoff
whether that will happen but its an
inch by inch thing. 50 years ago talking
about homosexuality was a huge faux
pas - its gone so far now the
government wants to teach it in schools.
As a local politician, I am ashamed at the immature attitude of our national politicians in dealing with drug abuse.
They seem to be blind to the probability that prohibition and UK law is responsible for increasing drug abuse. It has not reduced it.
They say, "to suggest a change in the law would send the wrong message to young people".
I think that the message that young people get from the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary is that they are dishonest and won't face reality. Dishonest in that they equate cannabis with cocaine and yet allow alcohol abuse. Unrealistic, in that they spend several times the amount on enforcement than on drug health and education.
Until senior Minster's grow up and stop pandering to reactionary forces, the situation will get worse.
Kristian, Canada, and a non-pot smoker
Dave Auklands comment infuriates me when he says that "A relaxation of cannabis laws will only lead to anarchy and a nation of doped up hippies." This only shows how naive he is. I live in Amsterdam and can tell you for a fact that the Dutch are far from being a nation of doped up hippies. A very healthy percentage of the Dutch who live in Amsterdam do not use drugs at all. The regular users of drugs in Amsterdam are locals such as Moroccans, Rastas, and ex-pats and a huge percentage of users are tourists. To be honest I'd rather live in a city with a bunch of doped up happy hippies than a city where people are out of their minds from alcohol which may lead to after closing street violence where people get hurt, maimed and sometimes killed.
We shouldn't be surprised by
Governmental reaction to recent
Police Federation recommendations.
Don't forget that countless (perhaps
hundreds of thousands) of jobs
rely on the status quo, not least those
that work within the criminal justice
system and the misguided hacks who
work at the Daily Mail. The argument
must continue to be made - perhaps
a level-headed and sane response
will win the day...
I read your report about the Dutch approach. It seems to be admirably down to earth and sensible. Come on government allow the citizen some more choice in methods of self destruction. After all one can't legislate for common sense.
I have no time for people who take drugs - it's just a sign of immaturity and inadequacy. If you have lots of interests and good friends you don't need it in your life. People who do drugs should be made to work for a few weeks as auxiliaries in a hospital ward seeing first-hand the effects that drugs can have.
As usual, politicians are unable to even mention the word 'drugs' without wetting their pants. At the same time they seem to have no understanding of what they are talking about. Drugs are defined (in the public consciousness) by the fact that they are illegal, not by any inherent quality. Legalise, educate and regulate are the only sensible ways forward - continuing the current policy is moving backwards.
The fight against drugs is lost on everyone bar the most conservative older generation.
Tahir Nawab, NY, USA
The Dutch softdrugs policy makes for more responsible, more aware and more restrained users. In the US, they can buy and use guns on account of selective rights and liberties. An eighteen year old is allowed, encouraged or forced to die in a senseless war if need be. And they can't smoke a joint?
We have already proved admirably that prohibition does not work. The dealers and producers of illegal drugs are flourishing under our
'zero-tolerance' policies. They can
raise their prices and supply dangerously substandard chemicals
to our poor. What we need is sensible rather than
sensational dialogue, education, and co-operation
on this topic. This is the only way
that we will ever effect a change in
the epidemic of violence, addiction,
and disease that has taken over our
I live in the United States - a country that has more people incarcerated per-capita than anywhere else in the world - most of them on drug related charges. The war on drugs is a war on people.
A drug is a drug is a drug... There is no issue of 'hard' and 'soft'. People under the influence of any drug tend to have distorted, abnormal behaviour. And that cannot be justified as being 'legal'.
Why will the Government not listen to these respected surveys and when will we get a new "czar"? No, I don't use drugs.
In California, we are locking up non-violent soft drug offenders at a cost of $30,000 per year per person. Meanwhile, drug counselling programs, which cost less than $4,000 per person are not being funded.
Please, Great British public, don't be swayed into allowing drugs like cannabis to be decriminalised: this will greatly detract from the fun.
Alcohol and nicotine are both associated with high rates of morbidity and mortality worldwide. They kill people on a massive scale, all the time. Not just occasionally. Just because society has arbitrarily chosen to sanction the use of these particular drugs does not mean they are any safer or "better" than other drugs.
All drugs should be made legal. The main reason they are not legal is because the government can't figure out how to regulate and make money off it. They aren't fooling anyone by acting like their actually concerned with our health.
I'm 33. I have 2 degrees. I use E once or twice a month. I love dance music and don't a represent a danger to anyone. I may pay a price in years to come but why, like thousands more like me, should we run the risk of custody for possessing a drug which for me just means a good time?
I am definitely in favour of legalising this drug. Now the kids are grown up I would like to try cannabis and even grow it in my back garden (or do I need a greenhouse?). My problem is that I gave up cigarettes years ago and would like to do cannabis without tobacco.
I think it is a shame that anyone in our day and age can lose his or her job as well as be subjected to criminal proceedings for smoking cannabis. It proves to me that this really should be a human rights issue as they are being criminalised on the basis of a person's opinion.
Never mind cannabis, I find it
astounding that we have still not
taken more sensible measures to
prevent youngsters from smoking
tobacco! Why is it still possible
to buy cigarettes at the age of 16?
The fact that people are still discussing the possible adverse effects of marijuana, sheds light on the ignorance of many western societies. Violence involving drugs is the violence involved in the illegal trafficking and dealing.
I conducted research into the behavioural effects of whole smoked cannabis as well as oral, delta-9-THC and I think that relaxing laws on marijuana is a good idea, regulate it as you do alcohol. A move like this in the UK could really set a precedent for other nations.
Jon Livesey, USA
Legalise cannabis. It has been PROVEN to work in Holland. That's the end of the debate.
In Genesis 1:29 God said: "Here I have given to YOU all vegetation bearing seed which is on the surface of the whole earth and every tree on which there is the fruit of a tree bearing seed." Is it not hypocrisy that the governments of so-called God-fearing Christian states can wage a war on cannabis based on morals? Cannabis does not lead to addiction. Lack of education leads to addiction. Other aspects of human nature are addictive as well, such as preaching holier than thou attitudes! I live in British Columbia where marijuana usage and cultivation seems quite common albeit still illegal. It was brought here for the most part by pacifist "hippies" escaping the Vietnam draft.
Decriminalising drugs here
would not stop the ghastly
people involved in the wider
international drug trade who
are the real danger here.
Prime Minister you've already
lost the battle over Cannabis
and ecstasy. Why not just
admit what everyone already
knows and concentrate you're
effort on bigger dangers?
This government has proven once again that it has no courage, and absolutely no sense. It is against civil liberties, and for authoritarianism. I will never vote for New Labour.
The only countries which have successfully tackled drug abuse are the Netherlands and Switzerland. These two countries have tolerated cannabis use to some extent, and allowed heroin to be prescribed to addicts. This takes away the profits of the dealers, and prevents cannabis being seen in the same light as far more dangerous drugs.
Gordon, Australian in London
Cannabis is bad and should be illegal, people seem to be forgetting the mental problems that can be caused by its use.
Why can't the Government understand that making a substance illegal only increases its appeal to young people? And that it has absolutely no effect whatsoever on most people's decision to take drugs? Visiting a Northern club recently I was surprised to see that the majority of high ecstasy users (and I'm talking about 15 pills a night) are under 20 years of age.
Someone might take too much or simply have a snort or toot on the odd occasion with little or no adverse side effects. A "pusher" is just as likely to be a friend who has happened to score for you as the "fiend" who sells heroin to children on the playground. I'm not advocating anything except a little bit of reality when we come to discuss this issue.
D B, UK
If reports are to be believed, half a million people make a decision to break the law and take ecstasy in the UK on any given weekend. While the government maintains prefers not to manage this situation and keep its head in the sand, millions of people are developing a nonchalant disregard for laws which don't suit their lifestyle. I'd be more worried about that than anything else.
The Dutch experience suggests that decriminalisation of soft drugs doesn't lead to increased hard drug use. The Netherlands has one of the lowest rates of hard drug use in Western Europe, much lower than Britain's, and the average age of hard drug users is increasing by about one year every year, suggesting that the drug abuse population is simply getting older.
David Auckland, UK
Why oh why are we still going around in this ever decreasing circle? Education is the ONLY answer to the drug issue in this country, it is embarrassingly obvious that current legislation does NOT work! Sending people to prison for something like possession of a recreational drug is ridiculous.
Unfortunately this government is more concerned with knee-jerk condemnation to appease Daily Mail readers than taking an objective look at this issue.
When they can't even stop drugs getting into ours prisons how can they try and keep up the pretence that they can control them in the community as a whole.
Tricia Moore, Scotland
The real reason any British government will refuse to change the drug laws is the fear that doing so would be political suicide. However, the irony is that whilst New Labour has now fallen in love with the free market, it still thinks in the same old paternalistic lines when it comes to social policy. And Labour isn't alone: billions of dollars are spent by western governments keeping drugs users in jail and burning down parts of the South American rainforest to achieve absolutely nothing.
It is harmful to health and I certainly don't wish to inhale foul second hand cannabis smoke. Keep the law as it is. We don't want to be like Holland or we don't want to be like France where innocent people are stopped by the police and searched for it.
Andy MacDonald, UK
What is with this governments "we know best" attitude? Why will they not listen to the public, the police, the experts when it comes to matters like this. I am absolutely disgusted by it. Maybe they'll listen when it comes to polling day.
You have to draw a line somewhere and I agree that we should not relax our approach to ecstasy or cannabis. We accept alcohol and nicotine, which, when abused, are very harmful. If we relax on ecstasy and cannabis we might see them sitting alongside cigarettes and alcohol on the supermarket shelves.
The only people who seem happy with the status quo are Keith Hellawell and the Government. Virtually every recent poll and report has recommended a softening of the law regarding soft drugs. The Government just doesn't seem to care.
What is the point in Police Federation reports or Royal Commissions if they are ignored by the government? Too many votes are at stake because the public has been told for a long time too many half-truths and rhetoric about this issue.
If just one tenth of the money and resources were spent on educating people that drugs are harmful think how much would be saved to use on preventing real crimes.
Bob Gosling, UK
I think that cannabis should remain illegal. If cannabis is legalised, other drugs will follow in due course. There are enough problems with the youth of today we don't want even more!!
The main argument against relaxation seems to be that using "soft" drugs leads to people using harder drugs. If this were true then how come alcohol and nicotine users haven't rapidly progressed to heroine and cocaine?
That can only worsen the situation in clubs and pubs where their use is common and can have devastating effects for the users, as was shown in the case of Leah Betts, for example.
Alex Davies, Denmark
Absolutely, the drugs laws badly need revising. One of the main problems is that the handling of the offence of possession of small amounts of cannabis varies greatly depending on the local police
force's policy - ranging from warning/official caution to fine and a criminal record.
Any decision on legality is therefore an arbitrary decision. Any human activity has risk, it is the decision to declare a substance illegal that makes it attractive to criminals - as can be evidenced from the prohibition period in the US. A substance that soon had its legal status restored despite it retaining the social and risk factors that caused it to be banned in the 20's.
Chris Starr, UK
The current drug laws are draconian - prison for years over the possession of a herb?! Madness. The sooner we legalise and regulate the cannabis market the sooner a sensible policy for the other drugs can be thought out. To lump a herb with these chemicals is dangerous.
It is high time the government recognised that prohibition simply does not work, and the consumption of recreational drugs in private have proportionately less effect on others than legalised substances. This stance would enable limited police resources to be targeted towards heroin and cocaine.
The way the law currently stands promotes ignorance and is therefore wrong. MOST illegal drugs are actually less harmful than the legal (taxed) ones. If society is to overcome the hypocritical evil of an attitude which proscribes drugs which result in social tolerance, pacifism and creativity, whilst promoting
drugs which result in violence, suicide attempts, road deaths and epidemic-scale carcinogenic illness, it must open its eyes and accept that the law is currently
made not by people concerned about health, but by people concerned about their pocket.
The UK government's refusal to listen to the views of experts is astonishing. While the legal situation stays the same, the health of the general public is suffering and police and NHS money wasted. We need a sensible and open debate.
28 Mar 00 | UK Politics
Drugs study to urge change
21 Mar 00 | Health
Cannabis 'more harmful than tobacco'
06 Feb 00 | UK Politics
Hellawell: Relax cannabis policing
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