Nick Paton Walsh
Sunday October 28, 2001
Senior police officers have called for ecstasy to be treated as less dangerous than heroin or cocaine, just days after the Government ordered a relaxation of the cannabis laws.
In a move certain to trigger a heated debate, the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) wants the clubgoers’ favourite drug downgraded from class A to class B.
In the association’s first public comments on ecstasy, Andy Hayman, chairman of its drugs committee, said the drug was not as dangerous as heroin or cocaine. ‘We need to achieve a balance of police resources focusing a greater priority on class A drugs,’ said Hayman, who is Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.
‘Acpo’s submission to the Independent Inquiry into Drugs, based on the most up -to-date medical and scientific research, was that some drugs seem to be in too high a class, including ecstasy.’
Details of the Acpo submission to the inquiry – which led to the Runciman Report recommending the easing of drug laws – have remained confidential until now. Acpo’s view could force Home Secretary David Blunkett to review the drug’s status.
Ecstasy has claimed dozens of lives since it arrived in Britain in the late Eighties. Despite the deaths, experts accept it is not as dangerous as heroin which kills hundreds of people every year. Blunkett told the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee last week that a firm decision on the reclassification of drugs – including cannabis, LSD and ecstasy – would be reached within ‘three months’, once government scientists had reported back to him. He said his ‘thoughts’ were not to change the laws on ecstasy.
Hayman will give evidence to the select committee’s inquiry into drugs next month. ‘If I am asked about ecstasy [by the MPs] this is the line I will take,’ he said. Acpo would insist on a further review of all the medical evidence as a safeguard before any change in the law. ‘The reclassification of ecstasy may give the impression that it causes less harm, and its policing has a lower priority,’ said Hayman. ‘There are indications that this is not the case and Acpo remains committed to ensuring the fullest research and consultation is conducted.’
The new classification would cut the maximum jail sentence for possessing the drug from seven years to five. Supplying it would no longer merit a life sentence.
But Dr John Ramsey, a toxicologist at St George’s Hospital Medical School in London warned that ecstasy had ‘been linked to serious depression and birth defects. Changing its class would send a very unwise signal.’