[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 November 2005, 13:24 GMT
Is cannabis clampdown the solution?
By Alison Freeman
BBC News, London

A man rolling a joint
Residents say Brixton's real problem is crack and heroin
With its pilot of a controversial "softly softly" approach to cannabis the Metropolitan Police put Lambeth at the centre of the national debate on drugs.

But the force's decision to turn its back on the policy appears to be the final chapter, as targeting aggressive dealers and those who sell class A drugs in the London borough supersedes this more liberal policy.

Senior officers argue those dealers have hidden behind the cannabis laws - carrying only a small amount of the class C substance - to avoid arrest.

And the move to tackle them seems to be a positive one as far as members of the community are concerned.

Nick Helleur, who lives in Brighton Terrace, Brixton, says he backs the plan but thinks the steps could go even further.

We have to ask ourselves why people want to take drugs and escape from life in this country
Nick Helleur
Brixton resident
"It's laughable that these people who drive around in big cars wearing lots of jewellery are selling themselves as cannabis dealers," he told BBC News.

"We have real problems here with crack and heroin - and I can tell you that it's not cannabis that ruins people's lives."

Mr Helleur says he witnesses prostitution by addicts at his block of flats, homes there are targeted by thieves who steal to fund their drug habits and drug users take class A substances in the estate's grounds.

"We need shooting galleries for people with addictions and they need to be kept in a safe environment, away from old people and children," he says.

"But we also have to ask ourselves why people want to take drugs and escape from life in this country. It's not just down to the police there are wider social issues."

The trial of the relaxation of cannabis laws began in 2001.

'Dealers attracted'

Under the pilot anyone carrying small quantities of the drug were cautioned rather than arrested.

In the first six months the Metropolitan Police (Met) said they had saved more than 1,000 hours of officer's time.

Brixton high street
Brixton has positioned itself as a night time economy...and people who go to these pubs and clubs also smoke cannabis
Shane Collins, Green Party

But there was also a 35% increase in the number of people found in possession and an 11% increase in drug trafficking offences.

Critics blamed these rises on the pilot scheme and said it was attracting more dealers and users, of all levels of drugs.

When the experiment ended in July 2002, figures showed that of the 1,000 people cautioned for cannabis possession, more than half came from outside the borough.

The drug was downgraded from class B to C throughout England and Wales in January 2004, but it is still illegal.

'Flawed policy'

Although the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) recommended officers only caution those caught carrying small amounts of the drugs, legislation still allows arrests to be made where the drug is deemed a problem.

But Shane Collins, drug spokesperson for the Green Party, said clamping down on cannabis in this way was not practical for the area.

He said: "Brixton has positioned itself as a night time economy over the past ten years with pubs and clubs and people who go to these pubs and clubs also smoke cannabis.

"So if you scare all those people away then they won't go to the pubs, clubs and restaurants.

"This situation is as a result of a flawed drugs policy. If we could buy cannabis at a café or shop then we wouldn't need to buy it on the street, stopping it being supplied by heroin and crack dealers."

The Metropolitan Police are refusing to comment until the plans are discussed with the community at a meeting later.


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


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific