Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: Talking Point
Front Page 
World 
UK 
UK Politics 
Business 
Sci/Tech 
Health 
Education 
Entertainment 
Talking Point 
Forum 
In Depth 
AudioVideo 

Wednesday, 11 October, 2000, 11:41 GMT 12:41 UK
Does "zero tolerance" work?

The UK opposition conservative party last week proposed a fixed penalty of 100 for a first offence of possessing drugs - no matter how small the quantity.

Now the party leader William Hague concedes there are "concerns" about shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe's policy on drugs unveiled at the Tory conference.

Amid evidence that the police view such a policy as unworkable, the conservative party say the plans need "further consultation, discussion and debate".

Does "zero tolerance" work? Or should drug laws be less, rather than more, restrictive?

HAVE YOUR SAY

It is illegal to even have a trace of cannabis in your blood stream in Singapore

Nick Fellows, Singapore (UK)
I have lived in Singapore for the past 3 years, where a policy of zero tolerance is practised. It is illegal to even have a trace of cannabis in your blood stream in Singapore. In a recent case, two Singaporean students were jailed for 12 months each after returning from university in Australia and testing positive for cannabis in a random urine test. Nobody would argue that the justice metered out in this case is hard, but it certainly makes people think twice before taking drugs.
Nick Fellows, Singapore (UK)

I rather suspect that, once the Government has emptied its coffers trying to appease the genuine outcry for better public services and paying off the road users to keep them quiet, it will be looking for extra sources of revenue. Perhaps then the matter of cannabis legalisation might elicit some response from our so far silent Government.
Phil, UK

After thirty years of zero tolerance and a so-called "war on drugs" in the US they now have the worst drug problem in the world. When will politicians wake up to this? If you legalise cannabis and get the Government to provide it you solve a lot of problems. People are no longer corresponding with drug pushers that pressure people into taking harder drugs to increase their profit. Instead that profit which currently goes into criminal organisations can go into Government treatment programs and school drug education.
Charles Davies, Australia

There is always going to be a demand for drugs no matter what the Government policy is. People have to start facing up to this fact. The question is where should the revenue from this industry go, criminal gangs or government coffers?
Chris Davies, UK

I think the example of the US, where there are more people in prison for drug-related offences than there are in all of Europe, should be a sufficient example of why zero tolerance doesn't work. As long as people want drugs, and they obviously do, they will acquire and take them, whether or not they are illegal.
James, England


The Shadow Home Secretary underestimated the depth of public resentment about the unwarranted prohibition of cannabis

Joe, Netherlands
Just as Labour underestimated the deep resentment felt by the public about high fuel taxes, so too has the Shadow Home Secretary underestimated the depth of public resentment about the unwarranted prohibition of cannabis. Thank you Ann for reviving the debate in the run up to the next general election, for clearly the legal status of cannabis has now become an election issue. And although it was not your intention, your ill-conceived proposals must surely hasten the inevitable decriminalisation of what is, after all, a benign and much-maligned herb.
Joe, Netherlands

Surely we have reached a stage where 'Reefer Madness' propaganda is laughed at as much as it's equivalent from 1930's alcohol prohibition? Apparently not. Even in articles from respected news agencies there are still the same mythical consequences of drug use (exaggerations and outright mistruths. On another note, I haven't seen any mention by of William Hague's terrible over-indulgences in that evil drug alcohol.
J. Palmer, UK

People should be able to make their own minds up about it and not told what to do by people that haven't even tried it. I blame the price of beer in this country for the youth turning to cheaper substances. Make beer tax-free and you'll soon see there's no drug problem in this country
Mark O'Donnell, England


Firm but fair is what is needed

Katie, UK
Decriminalising cannabis would be a good thing. Amsterdam has the right approach with its 'Brown Cafes' for cannabis use. Guidelines for safe use are available in these cafes - don't drive afterwards, don't mix with alcohol, and so on. Instead, we should punish more harshly those crimes to do with addictive drugs (heroin, cocaine). Charge drug barons and dealers with attempted murder (after all, users will invariably die from drug-related causes and these suppliers know this. Firm but fair is what is needed.
Katie, UK

Smoking cannabis makes you relaxed where as drinking alcohol makes people violent and disruptive. Smoking cannabis is not that much worse than smoking so I think that it is time the government addressed their policy on this drug.
Henry, UK

Its quite clear that current drug laws are having exactly the same effect as prohibition had in the US. They bring organised crime vast sums of money and create a society within a society. Prohibition failed and so will anti-drug legislation.
Roger Phillips, UK

"Zero-tolerance" is the standard drug policy in the United States and I can tell you that's it's just about the worst imaginable way of dealing with the drug problem. Apart from putting a huge group of citizens at odds with the law and creating criminal distributors, "zero-tolerance" and Mandatory Minimum's (required jail terms for even first time drug offenders) take life-changing decisions out of the hands of police and even judges who are capable of judging the situation. More than half of the US's huge prison population is made up of drug offenders, convicted of largely non-violent offences. This policy is a disaster; stay as far away from it as possible.
Ben, NY, USA


I think this policy goes a long way to show how out of touch the Tories are

Mike, UK
I think this policy goes a long way to show how out of touch the Tories are, not just with public opinion but even within their own Shadow Cabinet! How can they be taken seriously if the Shadow Home Secretary unleashes this policy to the surprise of her colleagues?
Mike, UK

Now that Nora Batty is leaving "Last of the Summer Wine", I think I know who would be the perfect replacement for her....
Steve Bush, England

Alcohol consumption creates an entire industry ranging from actual production, pubs, taxis, police etc, whilst the only economic benefit to be gained from legalising cannabis would be that a few more chocolate bars and crisps would be sold on a weekend. This can be the only argument for Ms Widdecombe's outlandish, misplaced and mis-thought populist posturing.
Nick Patterson, England


It is this huge cost, coupled with the addiction, which drives drug users to commit other crimes to feed their habits

David Hazel, UK
It seems to me that the only people who ever benefit from harsh drug laws are the traffickers themselves, since by driving drug use underground, we allow these people to make massive profits from supplying drugs to people who are addicted to them. It is this huge cost, coupled with the addiction, which drives drug users to commit other crimes to feed their habits.
Surely, it would be better to legalise, but carefully monitor, drug use. This would allow prices for addicts to be at a reasonable level, removing the need for them to commit burglaries etc. At the same time, such an approach would make the UK unprofitable for the drug barons, and they would take their empires elsewhere.
David Hazel, UK

Seems that everyone is making a distinction between cannabis and hard drugs. Historically the mild illegal substances slip through the cracks (no pun intended) to become legal e.g. tobacco, alcohol. What does this mean about our evolution when we become more dependent on these substances?
What does the fact that we are taking individuals decisions away and giving power to the small minority in power say?
Caroline, UK

Where do these ridiculous figures come from (50% of teenagers try drugs before 16) ... and saying "Significant percentage" without quantifying this is meaningless. I can only speak from my own experience, very few people smoke dope, and very few children are daft enough to try drugs. The sort of people that Ann is aiming at, are not the decent law abiding citizens of this country, but the riffraff that only care for there own gratification, and I really don't think they will give two hoots for Ann's opinion.. So for this reason I find her policy ill thought out.
Francis Anderson, UK

Just because of the fact that many people smoke marijuana is not a valid reason to decriminalise it. The problem is out of hand and it seems to be the attitude that if a problem is out of hand society should just accept it instead of fighting against it. Drug takers should be treated like the criminals that they are, only then will we see a difference.
Boris Forey, Australia


As long as cannabis remains illegal, there will be large profits for the Mafia who supply the drugs

Peter Coan, France
As long as cannabis remains illegal, there will be large profits for the Mafia who supply the drugs. As soon as cannabis is decriminalised, the Mafia will be out of business. Ann Widdicombe is simply playing into the hands of the Mafia, just like alcohol prohibition in the USA in the twenties. The result of her "zero tolerance" policy would be more crime, more Mafia, more prisons, and more fear in our society.
Peter Coan, France

Laws are to reflect a nations values. The law is out of step with the people now. When hundreds of thousands of people use illegal substances every week, one must wonder if the policy of them being legal is not out of step with their use. Anne is not living anywhere the real world. Penalising cannabis users will not affect the use and distribution of habit forming, life changing drugs (I'll leave out tobacco and alcohol in that one).
Michael Williams, UK


Perhaps if cannabis was legalised and taxed the Government could afford more police officers

Geoff, UK
I have been a police officer for 14 years and I feel that the fact that I can apply discretion when dealing with people is essential, as situations that we deal with are often complex. Zero tolerance robs us of this discretion. With regards to drugs, people are right to link drugs with crime. However street crime and burglaries are normally committed by people on hard drugs. In fact I cannot recall an occasion when somebody has committed a crime to buy cannabis.

But the buying of cannabis ultimately supports international drugs gangs who are importing it on a large scale, along with harder drugs. I feel that we are caught in a prohibition situation and this whole matter needs to be looked at in depth by a Royal Commission. Perhaps if cannabis was legalised and taxed the Government could afford more police officers. Currently many officers are reluctant to arrest people for minor possession, as it means hours in the station resulting in the offender being cautioned and released. Officers do not feel that this is the best use of their time.
Geoff, UK

How can sitting at home, relaxing with friends, watching TV in a 'chilled-out' state be considered an illegal or immoral act? When will politicians realise the reality of cannabis culture in the UK? Leave us to our lives and concentrate on the real threats to society. In 5 years time, cannabis will be decriminalised and these debates will seem academic. It is inevitable
Tim Porter, UK

Why is enforcing the law so terrible? Tobacco and alcohol are not illegal, drugs are. Why don't we all face the facts? The drug barons get very rich, very quickly, evade the law and cause misery to thousands of people. Crime is significantly associated and linked heavily to drugs. What is it that Ann Widdecombe is doing wrong? She is clearly trying to reach the root of the evil by clipping the branches. Keep up the good work!
Gareth (a non drug user), UK

The war on drugs is about as likely to succeed as any other policy that goes against human nature. One might as well try and stop the world from turning as attempt to stop people indulging in such illicit pleasures. The only way to get around the problem of drug crime is to stop making drug use a crime. Once there is a cheap, legal supply, the need for users to steal to feed their habit will be practically eliminated.
David, England

Prohibition gave Al Capone and the rest of the gangsters the ability to make a fortune and resulted in an explosion of gangland mayhem and murder. The illegal drugs market today is similar. Where does all that money come from that people kill each other for and bribe policemen with? All because drugs are illegal. Mr Kennedy is correct that cannabis should be decriminalised and, of course, he is being vilified by those petrified chunks of wood who pass for the representatives of the people. Shame on them for hypocrisy and good on HIM for common sense.
Carolyn Zaremba, San Francisco, USA


Even if you were a fan of zero tolerance you'd have to admit to the un-enforceability of this daft law

Laura Davies, Oxford, UK
Even if you were a fan of zero tolerance you'd have to admit to the un-enforceability of this daft law. Making criminals out of recreational cannabis users is a complete anachronism as it is: its barely enforced now. Decriminalising cannabis would be about making the law conform to the reality. Trying to go in the opposite direction is laughable and more evidence of the far right lunacy of today's Tory party.
Laura Davies, Oxford, UK

I will now always associate Ann Widdecombe with the word "dope"
Streve N, London UK

While she is on the bandwagon why doesn't Ms Widdecombe do some thing about the drugs that really kill Britons - Alcohol and Tobacco! Or is that a stupid question? Death from Alcohol is acceptable, but a bit of paranoia from 'grass' is not? It is still a matter of political self-interest!
Patrick B, UK


I was under the impression that possessing or using drugs was illegal

Sue, Bedford
I was under the impression that possessing or using drugs was illegal. So what is so wrong in enforcing this? By not convicting users and dealers we are giving out the signal that this is acceptable. What is so different about this crime from any other?
Sue, Bedford

The law on cannabis in the UK is ignored by a large minority of people and brings the whole system into disrepute. The fact is that the Treasury is addicted to alcohol and tobacco, and cannabis - which can be successfully cultivated at home, even in the UK- is a threat to the state's cut of the legal drug money. Hypocrisy is not new in politics but the Tories' absurd posturing is a relief if it drives them down in the polls.
Maurice, England

Ann Widdecombe rightly states that 80% of burglaries are committed to finance illegal drug use. But if drug users are resorting to theft to pay for drugs, how will imposing higher fines help? Surely they will just steal more in order to pay them. Like most Tory party policies, it's all good headline grabbing stuff, but it doesn't bear even ten seconds' scrutiny.
James Slodzik, UK

As an ex-pat, it's sad to see the UK drift towards these senseless proposals with little or no thought of how they relate to real life. We should have "zero tolerance" of any proposals which show no tolerance of social differences, which should be welcomed and embraced positively rather than crushed.
Dave Watson, Melbourne, Australia

Zero tolerance on drugs is straightforward common sense. The links between drug use and crime were proven long ago, and at a time when crime in the UK has reached astronomical proportions, what sense does it make to legalise the very cause of it?
Mark Counsell, Canada

How about "zero tolerance" of politicians who waste their time and our money on trying to bring in daft, unenforceable laws?
Gary Dale, England

Taking drugs of any kind is illegal. It is about time these people were punished properly and not given a token slap on the wrist. Good on you Ann.
Graham, England


I believe we should place greater emphasis on education

Sarah Leighton, Argentina (UK expat)
I believe we should place greater emphasis on education. Teach our youngsters how drug-taking generates the type of crime which has made our towns, cities, and even countryside increasingly dangerous. Teach them that the reason their bike was stolen or their granny's pension money was taken or the terrifying neighbourhood shootout was because of drugs. Teach them that by taking drugs they are helping to maintain criminal organisations of the most vicious kind, that they therefore share a responsibility for the crime on the streets.
Sarah Leighton, Argentina (UK expat)

Zero-tolerance will not work because, as Noel Gallagher once said, "Taking drugs is as English as having a cup of tea". Trying to criminalise more people won't solve the problem. It will only further strain police and judicial resources and create even more of a culture of disillusionment with the Governmental and legal system.
Ben, UK

I don't think we should take all this too seriously. It's intended for consumption by the slavering hounds that proliferate at Tory conferences. What is worrying, however, is that such talk further alienates young people from any respect for the law in general. Even the current drug laws are obviously far out of touch with common sense and the reality on the street. If one set of laws seems blatantly stupid, couldn't that lower the respect people give to all our laws?
Jon, Netherlands

There is no point having a tough stance on 'drugs' when the more dangerous substances of alcohol and tobacco remain unchallenged. The latter two legal drugs are responsible for far more crime, violence and illness than all the illegal drugs could ever be. The Tories are just showing again that they do not grasp the principles of what needs to be an inclusive and intelligent debate. Drug users need empowerment, not criminal sentences.
Neil H, UK

Zero Tolerance is not stopping people taking drugs as it hasn't in the USA, where the drug problem is thriving.
John Marks, England


What strange mixed signals the Tories send us

AJ, UK
What strange mixed signals the Tories send us. On the one hand, we've got William Hague's tales of supping 14 pints or 32 rum and blacks. On the other hand, we've got Ann Widdecombe's zero tolerance. Tell me - who causes the most damage, who are the most likely to be violent and offensive? A bunch of people who have been on Mr Hague's 14 pints, or a bunch of people who have been on dope?
AJ, UK

"Zero Tolerance" is all the rage in the US and I am surprised that it is only just becoming known in Britain. If someone possesses drugs, they will probably use them and commit crimes to get more drugs. The Tories have always been known as the party of "Law and Order," and can be trusted to keep the peace. I think that Tony Blair should follow suit.
Jeff, USA


A clear message has to go out to both abusers and dealers that society will not tolerate drugs

Kris Hopkins, England
People are fed up with seeing drug abusers getting a token slap on the hand - often just a caution. A clear message has to go out to both abusers and dealers that society will not tolerate drugs. Yes we need to always look at the reasons why and try to help but letting people go free back into society without any form of punishment for their criminal act, is as good as condoning it. Well done Ms Widdecombe for having the guts to say it.
Kris Hopkins, England

If drugs are illegal then having a little or a lot is not the question. The question is simply one of the penalty. In my view the harder the penalty the easier the choice.
B. Davis, UK

'Zero tolerance' is a nonsense. The reality is that a significant percentage of the population, mostly those under the age of 30, smoke cannabis recreationally. There is nothing to be gained from prosecuting an extra 100,000 people a year and giving them criminal records. The Police Federation report earlier this year recommended relaxing the law on cannabis, in order to focus law enforcement on 'serious' drug abuse. This is in line with other democracies in Europe, and is the policy we should be following.
James McLean, UK


Shadow Home Secretary Ann Widdecombe runs the risk of alienating many voters

Jonathan Madden, UK
Shadow Home Secretary Ann Widdecombe runs the risk of alienating many voters with the Conservative's proposed zero tolerance policy on drugs, including cannabis. Many young people, a significant proportion of the 18 to 30 age group, use cannabis in one form or another. They will not be inclined to vote Conservative with this policy initiative on the agenda. The Conservative zero tolerance proposals are unworkable in the form announced by the Shadow Home Secretary.
Jonathan Madden, UK

As over 50% of 16 year olds have tried illegal substances what will happen when a majority of the population have a criminal record?
Mark Davies, UK

Putting drugs into yourself is not the same as putting bricks through other people's windows. Anne Widdecombe is way off target here.
Jack, UK

I think a problem with 'zero tolerance' laws is that people are subject to the letter of the law but there is no way to interpret the spirit of such laws. We tried those laws here in the US with, in my opinion, poor results. Is it just that someone forfeits their auto or home for possessing a few seeds of marijuana or a few marijuana cigarettes? I think laws have 2 components, the letter and the spirit and zero tolerance laws seem to have only the letter and no spirit.
Christopher Young, Minnesota, USA

And the Tories claim that Britain is a "Nanny State" under Labour!!
Martin Hutchinson, UK

Send us your comments:
Name:

Your E-mail Address:


Country:

Comments:

Disclaimer: The BBC will put up as many of your comments as possible but we cannot guarantee that all e-mails will be published. The BBC reserves the right to edit comments that are published.
Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
BBC RADIO NEWS
BBC ONE TV NEWS
WORLD NEWS SUMMARY
PROGRAMMES GUIDE
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


Links to other Talking Point stories