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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 9 July, 2002, 19:30 GMT 20:30 UK
Are dealers controlling Brixton's streets?
Ian Duncan Smith talking to shadow Home Secretary Oliver Letwin and a few Brixton residents at Brixton Baptist church
Do residents agree with Iain Duncan Smith's appraisal?

Walking out of Brixton tube station I had half expected to be offered a wide selection of illegal narcotics.

Perhaps Tuesdays aren't a good day for the criminal gangs that are supposedly running the streets now that the police are taking a "softly, softly approach" to cannabis possession in the Lambeth area.


If the government wanted to try to control drugs they should have done it... in the bars

Resident Pauline Cumming
It was also a quiet day in flowery Solon Road where Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith joined a ladies' fellowship meeting at Brixton Baptist Church to call for an end to the drugs trial.

There were no more than 10 local residents at the meeting and, as expected, he was mainly preaching to the converted.

Grandmother of three and foster parent Pauline Cumming, 50, said Home Secretary David Blunkett's proposals to downgrade penalties for possession and dealing of cannabis were an "absolute disaster".

"If the government wanted to try to control drugs they should have done it in a controlled way in the bars or other places that adults frequent rather than on the streets," she said.

"It makes me feel very frightened."

'Lines of pushers'

The church's Pastor Chris Andre-Watson wants a reversal of the soft approach, which he says has confused many young people into thinking it is acceptable to take drugs.

"The message has gone out that cannabis has been legalised, they do not understand the differences and subtleties of the law," he said.

Pastor Chris Andre-Waston
Pastor Chris Andre-Waston wants the scheme reversed
He said matters had been made worse by the police advertising the fact that they were taking a more lenient approach, which many said had been in place anyway.

The views on the streets closer to the heart of the problem than Solon Road were mixed.

When asked, many people do give the description used by those who oppose the Lambeth experiment - lines of drug pushers harassing shoppers and people coming into the area to buy drugs.

They say the dealers are the problem and it is the harder drugs such as crack cocaine and heroin that are causing a massive problem in the borough.

Tourists 'scared'

Shopkeeper Yousur Malik said the increasing number of dealers on the streets at night and at the weekends is very intimidating for residents and visitors.

"Tourists are scared and come into the shop to escape and ask to be accompanied to the tube," he said.

Lambeth police commander Brian Paddick
Police say the scheme is a success
But a Mori poll in the Lambeth area recently showed 83% support for the pilot scheme.

Cannabis smokers and those who support the experiment also don't want to see dealers on the streets, they don't want to be hassled, they don't want to see children offered drugs and they want the police to crack down on hard drugs.

In short, they would like to be left alone to have a quiet smoke, and not bother anyone.

But that would need the government to take a larger step towards legalisation in order to prevent the buyers being forced to turn to the illegal market.

'Leave the smokers be'

Builder Michael Soul, 40, from Brixton said the dealers were giving out the wrong image about cannabis use.


If it was legalised more people taking hard drugs would go back to cannabis

Resident Stanley Bernard
"The majority of people my age and younger will have a puff," he said.

"But they don't stick it in your face and offend anyone by it. You want to address the quantity and the pushing, not the people that smoke it."

Stanley Bernard, 50, who has been fined for cannabis use in the past, believes legalising cannabis could even have a positive effect on harder drug users.

"If it was legalised more people taking hard drugs would go back to cannabis," he said.


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Lambeth scheme

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