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Thursday, 23 May, 2002, 15:16 GMT 16:16 UK
Drug reclassification: Ask Chris Mullin MP
Commons home affairs select committee chairman Chris Mullin MP took your questions in a live interactive Forum.

  Click here to watch the forum.  


Senior MPs have called for ecstasy to be downgraded in a change of emphasis on drug policy from punishment to rehabilitation.

In a report on drugs, published on Wednesday, the Commons home affairs select committee calls for the class A drug to be downgraded to class B - the same category as cannabis and amphetamines.

The committee also backs Home Secretary David Blunkett's moves to make cannabis a class C drug and proposes the use of controversial "safe injecting areas" for heroin users.

But the home secretary has already said the downgrading of ecstasy from class A to class B is not on the government's agenda.

The report is, however, set to provoke strong opposition from critics of the government's approach to drugs.

Commons home affairs select committee chairman Chris Mullin MP took your questions in a live interactive Forum.


This forum has finished. Thank you for your questions.

Transcript


Newshost:

I'm Peter Gould and welcome to this forum from BBC News Interactive. A committee of MPs is calling for an overhaul of Britain's drug laws. They're backing a move by the Home Secretary to downgrade cannabis to a class C drug which carries lower penalties. But the MPs, Members of the Home Affairs Select Committee, also want the drug ecstasy to be taken out of class A - the category that includes heroin and placed in class B which includes amphetamines and that's a move the Government has rejected.

Some people say that the reclassification of cannabis is long overdue. But others feel that any relaxation of the drugs laws could set a dangerous precedent. Joining us to answer your questions on this issue is the Chairman of the Select Committee, the Labour MP, Chris Mullin, who is in our Westminster studio.

A question from K Tomkinson, Glasgow: David Blunkett says that there is no such thing as a safe dose of ecstasy. Yet the hundreds of thousands of young people that take it each weekend and manage to carry on normal lives during the week would agree that such scaremongering can only cause more harm. Did this have any bearing on your proposals?


Chris Mullin:

We feel, as I said, that the present categorisation which places ecstasy alongside the most harmful drugs such as heroin and crack is not realistic. We think young people are more likely to take any message we want to get over to them seriously if we have a realistic categorisation.


Newshost:

Will you continue pressing Mr Blunkett to change his mind on this issue?


Chris Mullin:

We will.


Newshost:

Ryan, Tonbridge, Kent: Based on the scientific evidence that we currently have on the effects of ecstasy, is there not a case for the Government to wake up and realise that people will continue to use the drug, be it legal or not. Wouldn't it be best to allow drug usage in a controlled capacity? How do you suggest the Government can best achieve this?


Chris Mullin:

What we're suggesting is that the Government focus its programme on the drug abusers who are caught doing the most damage, both to themselves and to society as a whole - those who are using crack cocaine and those who are using heroin - overwhelmingly they're heroin users. We're suggesting that all our efforts, or most of our efforts, should be focused on those people. In addition of course to educating young people about the fact that all drugs are to a greater or lesser extent harmful and nothing in this report is intended to convey otherwise.


Newshost:

Mel, UK: For the Government to downgrade ecstasy and make it more accessible would be wildly irresponsible. In this country it is not a clean drug, like it is in Holland. How can you justify this when the demand for a "lower" class drug would rise, if your recommendations were adopted?


Chris Mullin:

Well I don't think there's any question of making ecstasy any more accessible than it already is though I think it's a fact of life that ecstasy is fairly accessible at the moment. All we're talking about is reducing the maximum penalty involved for using from 7 years to 5 years - that's really very much in the way of liberalisation.


Newshost:

But a number of people, as you know, think that any kind of relaxation is really just the start of a slippery slope and it will inevitably lead to more drug use. What do you say those people?


Chris Mullin:

I say that it isn't and it won't. But it does make sense, given that resources are limited and given there's a huge variation in the kind of damage that different types of drugs can do, to concentrate on those drugs that are doing the most damage and that is overwhelmingly heroin and to a growing extent, crack cocaine.


Newshost:

Matt Watts, London, UK: Ecstasy can cause dreadful side-effects, such as Parkinson's disease years after drug use has ceased? Do you not feel that 15 years from now a generation decimated by E will represent a major economic crisis for our country?

Long-term damage from drugs like ecstasy?


Chris Mullin:

Yes, it's perfectly possible that there is long-term damage from drugs like ecstasy and we're not in any way attempting to minimise that. I don't think one can say with certainty what the long-term damage is likely to be but it's certainly a possibility and you'll find that recorded in our report.


Newshost:

Tom, Swindon, UK: As a long-term heavy user of ecstasy, I would like to know why the Home Affairs Committee has not accompanied its reclassification proposals with a recommendation to the Government to properly educate the half a million or so people who take the drug every weekend?


Chris Mullin:

The Government is to some extent doing that. They published a document a few weeks ago, called Safer Clubbing, which recognises that whether we like or not a lot of young people are going to take ecstasy and it will be better if they did so in safe circumstances and it offers advice to that effect.


Newshost:

A lot of these questions clearly are focusing on the issue of ecstasy - cannabis seems to be less controversial in a sense. Do you think now that the politicians are perhaps catching us with public opinion on this issue?


Chris Mullin:

I think that cannabis is among the least harmful types of illegal drugs. But even there, the types of cannabis vary considerably; some of it is not very harmful and some of it still can have long-term damaging effects and again we record all that. But one has to recognise that a higher priority needs to be given to the drugs that are causing the mayhem and I go back to the point that's heroin and crack cocaine.


Newshost:

Pat van der Veer, Wallasey, UK: Instead of moving drugs from one class to another, why are we not looking more at prevention and the reasons behind why people start taking drugs in the first place?


Chris Mullin:

We certainly agree that you need to educate young people about the dangers of all types of drugs and by that I include cigarettes and alcohol incidentally which cause still a great deal more damage than even the most dangerous illegal drugs.


Newshost:

A, Birmingham, UK: As someone who has had their entire adult life wrecked by cannabis, LSD and E, I think this is a terrible idea. I would appeal to the Government not to downgrade the classification of these drugs. As a society we should be protecting each other and not urging each other to destroy ourselves. Can you explain what possible benefits these proposals will have?


Chris Mullin:

There is nothing in the report that urges people to destroy themselves. We point out quite rationally and calmly the type of damage that all drugs can do. The argument about reclassification is simply that we have to get real and recognise that some drugs are a great deal more harmful than others.


Newshost:

In your report you didn't go so far as some people would like in terms of legalising or decriminalising cannabis - was there much discussion about this in your committee?


Chris Mullin:

We took a lot of evidence on the legalising or decriminalising, not just of cannabis but of all drugs. There are quite a lot of sensible and thoughtful people who believe that the best way to get drugs out of the hands of criminals is to legalise and regulate in the same way perhaps as you sell cigarettes. We came down flatly against that because we do have to recognise that it would lead to an increase - no one knows to the extent - but an increase in the number of young people who use drugs and we didn't wish to send that message.


Newshost:

But clearly in terms of the way the police operate, the attitude towards cannabis has shifted somewhat hasn't it?


Chris Mullin:

I think the police have recognised a long time ago - or many of the police have - that the big problems are caused to them not so much by cannabis or ecstasy but by heroin, which as I say is responsible for about 40% of acquisitive crime - that's people stealing and mugging in order to fund their habit and crack cocaine which is associated with a great deal of violence.


Newshost:

Could I ask you finally, as I say, there was no suggestion by you to decriminalise cannabis but can you see this perhaps happening one day in the future? Do you think public attitudes will change to the extent that it could be legalised?


Chris Mullin:

No doubt there'll always be an argument about that and certainly drugs policy shouldn't be set in stone. We really have to see what works and what doesn't. But for the moment, we think it should be left as it is.

See also:

19 May 02 | Politics
08 Feb 03 | Medical notes
08 Feb 03 | Medical notes
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