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Tuesday, 28 March, 2000, 12:35 GMT 13:35 UK
Police chief backs softer drugs stance
Coffee shop
An Amsterdam coffee shop, where cannabis is on sale
The Scottish police officer involved in a report which recommends relaxing some drug crime sentences has defended the proposed changes being put forward.

Fife chief constable John Hamilton was the sole Scottish representative in the two-year study carried out by the Police Foundation.

The committee reviewed the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and has recommended that cannabis be reclassified from a Class B drug to Class C, while ecstasy and LSD be moved from Class A to Class B.

The recommendations are based on the committee's assessment of the relative harm of such drugs to the individual and to society at large.

John Hamilton
Chief Constable John Hamilton
Mr Hamilton visited the Netherlands last year, for a "unique view of how others look upon drug usage" and to further his understanding of what is a highly emotive subject.

Speaking after the launch of the committee's report, he said: "It is nearly 30 years since the main legislation controlling the misuse of drugs in the UK was enacted, and a lot of water has gone under the bridge since those days."

"The criteria by which drugs are classified have never been clearly described and we believe that they should be.

"We believe the changes will enable the law to reflect more accurately the risks attached to different drugs.

Cannabis 'not harmless'

"This will enhance the law's credibility and the support it can offer to education and prevention and we have concluded that the most dangerous message of all is the message that all drugs are equally dangerous.

"We are recommending, therefore, that there should be no custodial sentence for the possession of Class B and C drugs, although a shorter maximum prison sentence than at present should continue to be available for the possession of a Class A drug.

We believe we are moving with the grain of consent, and our proposed changes are legally sound

John Hamilton
"Cannabis is not a harmless drug, but by any of the main criteria of harm - mortality, morbidity, toxicity, addictiveness and relationship with crime - it is less harmful to the individual and society than any of the other major illicit drugs, or indeed than alcohol and tobacco.

"The present law on cannabis produces more harm than it prevents and it criminalises large numbers of otherwise law-abiding, mainly young, people to the detriment of their futures.

Dutch experience

"Under our proposals, the normal sanctions for offences of cannabis possession and cultivation would be out-of-court disposals, including informal warnings, statutory cautions or a fixed fine on the model of the Scottish fiscal fine."

Mr Hamilton acknowledged that if cannabis sanctions were to be substantially reduced there would be a risk that more people would use it, but he added that international evidence suggested that was unlikely.

Cannabis use is widespread
"In our consideration of cannabis we looked closely at the Dutch experiences and took evidence from both proponents and opponents of their present policy.

"This approach has not been without its problems.

"Nevertheless we have been impressed with its results which indicate a similar level of cannabis use to other countries, a lower prevalence than in the UK, a stable population of problem drug users with a high proportion in touch with treatment services, virtually no volatile substance misuse and a ratio of drug-related deaths which is the lowest in Europe.

"We believe we are moving with the grain of consent, and our proposed changes are legally sound, reflecting priorities already observed by those most closely involved in the implementation of our drug legislation.

"They also bring the law into line with public opinion and its most loyal ally, common sense."

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