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Sunday, 19 May, 2002, 20:17 GMT 21:17 UK
Ecstasy 'downgrade' welcomed by MP
Ecstasy tablets
Ecstasy kills up to 50 people each year
Reports that senior MPs will call for ecstasy to be downgraded to a soft drug have been welcomed by a Labour backbencher who has made it his personal mission to get cannabis decriminalised.

Paul Flynn said the move would end the "ridiculous" anomaly of ecstasy being classed as the same as "more addictive" drugs such as heroin and cocaine.

At the moment, classifying ecstasy with heroin and cocaine is seen to be ridiculous

Paul Flynn

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

But the plan has provoked anger from the parents of Leah Betts, who died on her 18th birthday in 1995 after taking ecstasy.

Shadow home secretary Oliver Letwin also opposes the reclassification, stressing: "This drug can kill."

'Intelligent solutions'

However, Mr Flynn, who has campaigned for years to get the laws on cannabis liberalised, said he thought the measure was "very sensible".

He told BBC News Online: "At the moment, classifying ecstasy with heroin and cocaine is seen to be ridiculous.

"It is part of the reason why the law lacks respect from the young who feel it is not as addictive and dangerous as heroin.

"I have advocated this for many years. It will cut drug crime.

"I think we are over the 30 years of answering every problem with so-called tough penalties. We are now starting to go towards intelligent solutions."

Paul Flynn, MP for Newport West
Paul Flynn: Sensible way forward

Declassifying ecstasy would reduce the maximum penalty for supplying the drug from a life jail sentence to just 14 years.

But Mr Betts, a former Metropolitan police officer, told The Sunday Telegraph: "This will send out all the wrong signals to young people that ecstasy is a safe drug when even the government's own figures shows it kills up to 50 people every year.

'Dangerous move'

"Ecstasy can kill and in America, it is becoming known as 'suicide Tuesday' because so many people kill themselves as they come off the drug after the weekend.

"It will be a very dangerous move to reclassify ecstasy. We will see more young people in psychiatric wards and ruined for life."

But former Cabinet Minister Mo Mowlam, an advocate of liberalisation who has admitted smoking cannabis as a student, says the committee's proposed "half-way measures achieve nothing".

She said ministers should have the "guts to go the whole way" and legalise ecstasy and cannabis.

Mo Mowlam
Mo Mowlam: Ministers should have the guts to legalise cannabis and ecstasy

"The ecstasy move, to bring it down a class, what does that do? It makes it more available," she told BBC's Breakfast with Frost.

"But it doesn't deal with the underlying problems of making sure it's clean, making sure that people know how much and that water is available and how much water to drink."

Baroness Walmsley welcomed the committee's proposals, which she described as "almost a carbon copy" of her Lib Dem working group's investigation into the UK's "failing" drugs policy.

"We really do need more medical evidence about ecstasy before going any further than reclassifying it from A to B," she said.

"Young people know that alcohol and tobacco are more dangerous than cannabis, but classing ecstasy alongside heroin and crack cocaine brings drugs education into disrepute."

'Heroin prescription'

But a committee member, was reported to have told the Telegraph anonymously: "The police must concentrate on the drugs that do the most serious harm, such as heroin and cocaine.

"Seizing this drug and cracking down on the dealers is the most important job that we can do.

"Ecstasy will remain illegal, but we have to face facts, about half a million people take ecstasy every week in Britain, so the current law isn't working."

The committee is reported to be supporting Home Secretary David Blunkett's call for more addicts to be prescribed heroin.

Mr Blunkett believes more people dependent on drugs should get access to them on prescription provided they agree to seek treatment.

NHS

The MPs will also reportedly propose the use of controversial "safe injecting areas", such as those seen in some continental countries, the paper says.

A Home Office spokeswoman told the newspaper that there was nothing new in proposals to make greater use of diamorphine - so-called medical heroin.

She said: "The home secretary's position has not changed since October when he said that doctors should prescribe more drugs if that is a way to bring addicts in for treatment."

A Department of Health spokesman said that "heroin is not available on the NHS" and stressed there were no plans to make it available.

"Diamorphine is currently available to a very small number of drug users prescribed by specialist GPs and we don't have any plans to change that," he said.


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19 May 02 | Politics
01 Mar 02 | Education
08 Feb 03 | Medical notes
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