BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh

 You are in: UK
Front Page 
Northern Ireland 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Wednesday, 21 November, 2001, 02:52 GMT
Senior officers back 'softer' drug laws
An estimated two million young people use ecstasy
The debate over relaxing UK drug laws has been reignited after senior police officers said they would support the downgrading of ecstasy to a Class B drug.

Metropolitan Police deputy assistant commissioner Andy Hayman said on Tuesday his force would support an easing of the ecstasy laws "if medical and scientific evidence suggests it".

There are a whole range of people who buy drugs with money they have earned legitimately

Metropolitan Police Commander Brian Paddick
Metropolitan Police commander Brian Paddick went further, saying he would rather "turn a blind eye" to the recreational use of drugs such as cocaine.

However the commander, who was later rebuked by the Met Police for his comments, made it clear they were his own opinions and that he was fully focused on implementing the Met's policy in relation to Class A drugs.

Angry reaction

The comments by senior officers, given before a Commons Home Affairs Select Committee looking into current drug laws, provoked campaigners from both sides of the debate.

Janet Betts, whose lost her daughter Leah to ecstasy six years ago, was furious.

leah betts
Ecstasy has claimed dozens of lives

"This is unbelievable. I'm sick of senior police officers who are just worried about balancing their books.

"They don't give a stuff about the kids on the street," she said.

"There's no way they should reclassify ecstasy, absolutely no way. It is a totally unpredictable drug and the potential for harm is very great."

But Danny Kushlick, director of drugs reform group Transform, was optimistic that the police chiefs' views showed that the will existed for change.

"What is glaring now is the lack of political courage in government to admit that prohibition has failed."

Drugs laws have been back in the spotlight since the Home Office announced plans to reclassify cannabis as a class C drug last month, although Home Secretary David Blunkett has already ruled out any change on ecstasy.

Serious drug crime

The senior police officers said they would rather "turn a blind eye" to the recreational use of ecstasy in their efforts to crack down on more serious drug crime.

Mr Hayman, who is chairman of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) drugs' sub-committee, told MPs such a move could "make a stronger statement" about the dangers of Class A drugs.

Chief Superintendent Kevin Morris, president of the Superintendent's Association, also backed change.

He said: "I would say there are far more important things which cause real harm to the community in the way that ecstasy does not cause real harm to the community."

Mr Paddick told MPs he thought arresting people for possessing ecstasy was a "waste of valuable police resources".

The police commander has been overseeing a six-month experiment in Brixton, south London, where possession of small amounts of cannabis is being dealt with by a caution rather than an arrest.

He told MPs he did not regard recreation use of drugs - including hard drugs such as cocaine - as a high priority.

"My view is that there are a whole range of people who buy drugs - not just cannabis but even cocaine and ecstasy - with money they have earned legitimately," he said.

'Shooting galleries'

Officers also said they would support the idea of controlled areas where addicts would be allowed to inject themselves.

Committee chairman Chris Mullin raised the idea of so-called "shooting galleries" based on a German system that offered addicts clean needles and health advice, and ensured that contaminated needles were not left in the street.

Mr Hayman said the ACPO would support such an idea "because it would reduce the tensions in the community and the erosion of the community".

The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"The police want to close in on those providing hard drugs on the street"
See also:

20 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Charity calls for 'relaxed' drug laws
24 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Cannabis laws to be relaxed
Internet links:

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

Links to more UK stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more UK stories