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Tuesday, 6 November, 2001, 15:23 GMT
Heroin 'a benign drug', MPs told
Cannabis in front of parliament
Drug laws continue to be a contentious political issue
Heroin is a "benign" drug which is only made dangerous by the fact its trade is largely carried out on the black market, an influential Commons committee has been told.

The Home Affairs Select Committee, which has been taking evidence from witnesses in favour of the liberalisation of the UK's drug laws, also heard that prohibition led to criminal activity and left users taking impure substances.


The worst that can happen is that we would end up with a tiny sliver of the black market that we have now

Nick Davies
The committee, which is conducting and inquiry into the current laws on drugs, was told by journalist Nick Davies that drugs should be brought into the mainstream where proper information could be provided.

Mr Davies, who has made documentaries on the subject of drugs, said: "The worst that can happen is that we would end up with a tiny sliver of the black market that we have now.

He added: "Heroin is very addictive but it does not damage the mind or body of its users."

Even evidence submitted by the government to the committee said that "the adverse physical effects of heroin are limited", Mr Davies argued.

Danny Kushlick of drug reform group Transform said: "Government policy is failing everywhere, with any indicator that you care to look at."

Legalisation

The committee - chaired by former Labour minister Chris Mullin - last week heard evidence from home office officials.

David Blunkett
Mr Blunkett has called for the downgrading of cannabis laws
Witnesses giving evidence on Tuesday also included Roger Warren Evans from civil rights group Liberty and the Legalise Cannabis Alliance's Alun Buffrey.

Ahead of his appearance before the committee Mr Kushlick said: "This is a significant opportunity to lay out the case for the legalisation of drugs."

He went on to say that because of the announcement by Home Secretary David Blunkett that cannabis would be downgraded to a Class C drug "the committee will have to go much further" with any recommendations.

He branded last week's evidence from the home office as a "travesty" and accused them of producing "manipulated data to support an untenable position".

"The home office has, in its submissions thus far, produced no evidence of effectiveness of current policy and a lousy critique of decriminalisation," he said.

Prioritisation

Mr Blunkett's decision to downgrade cannabis from Class B to C came because he wanted police to have more time to target hard drugs such as crack cocaine and heroin.

He is due to consult with the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs about the reclassification.

The council is likely to approve a recommendation that it first backed 22 years ago.

Possession of small amounts of the drug will no longer be an arrestable offence.

Such a move has already been the subject of a pilot scheme in south London's Brixton.

While the move to downgrade cannabis was greeted by the witnesses as a move in the right direction, they generally dismissed the drug as a small part of a much bigger picture.

The government needed to find the political will to tackle bigger problems like heroin and cocaine, the witnesses argued.

In Brixton, since July, police have been confiscating small quantities of cannabis and then cautioning the culprits rather than going through the time-consuming process of arresting them.

See also:

30 Oct 01 | UK Politics
'No cannabis cafes for UK'
29 Oct 01 | England
Cannabis cafe plan
25 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Head to head: Cannabis laws
25 Oct 01 | Music
Afroman defends cannabis hit
24 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Cannabis laws to be relaxed
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