Nick Paton Walsh
Sunday November 11, 2001
Cannabis should be sold at licensed outlets such as pubs, cafes and shops, according to a confidential survey of police forces, courts, probation officers and drug care workers. Eighty-one per cent of the 300 groups surveyed said that a system of licensed distribution should be introduced as soon as possible.
The lawful sale of cannabis is seen by campaigners as the next step in liberalising the drug after its reclassification as a class C substance, announced last month by Home Secretary David Blunkett.
The survey, conducted among the members of the government-backed charity DrugScope, will ignite fierce controversy. Anti-drug campaigners are furious at the increasingly relaxed attitude of police towards the drug. A licensing system would cover cafes and pubs, and GPs would be able to prescribe the drug.
The results of the survey will next week be put before the home affairs select committee inquiry into drugs, acting as a powerful indication to MPs of how law enforcement bodies privately feel about the threat cannabis causes.
Police have long argued that the pursuit of users detracts from the fight against organised criminals who engineer the drug’s supply. Roger Howard, chief executive of DrugScope and a member of Blunkett’s influential advisory committee, said: ‘buying cannabis will still lead people into transactions with organised crime and drug dealers who may also be selling other more harmful drugs.’
But anti-drug groups warn that one in four users goes on to try harder drugs. Peter Stroker, director of the National Drug Prevention Alliance, said: ‘Where [eased availability] has been tried… use of the substance has increased. Nobody seems to be talking about the vulnerable group of under-18s who take up cannabis. They now have access to tobacco and alcohol with relative impunity, and to suggest an age limit would stop this happening with cannabis is not just myopic, it is cynical.’