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  • Drug laws revolution set for UK
    by The Observer

    Copyright: The Observer

    Cannabis should be decriminalised in an Amsterdam-style revolution on the streets of Britain, an influential group of MPs will recommend in a landmark report.

    A seven-month investigation by the Home Affairs Select Committee, conducted at Downing Street’s request, concludes that ecstasy should be downgraded and prosecutions for possession of cannabis ended.

    The report, to be published this spring, will be seen as an authoritative milestone in the fierce debate over legalisation. It comes as cannabis treatments are to be prescribed on the NHS to multiple sclerosis sufferers, in a radical step to be revealed tomorrow.

    The Government will ask its medicines watchdog, the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (Nice), to issue guidelines for doctors on prescribing two cannabis derivatives – one a capsule, the other a spray used under the tongue – made by drug companies which have isolated the active ingredients of marijuana.

    Neither results in a ‘high’, and patients will not be given the option of smoking street cannabis. But the Home Office is watching the move with interest. ‘There is a general feeling that this would be part of the process of breaking down the barriers of resistance to the way cannabis is treated,’ said one Whitehall source.

    Downing Street, which has been adamant that there will be no decriminalisation of soft drugs, is expected to give a cautious welcome to the report but to oppose ecstasy, a class A drug, being downgraded to Class B.

    Home Secretary David Blunkett recently downgraded cannabis from B to C, which still carries a two-year sentence for possession but in effect means personal use rather than dealing will be tolerated. The committee backs a further step to a model similar to that in Holland, where dope is as openly consumed in cafes as coffee.

    It also wants wider prescription of heroin on the NHS to addicts, a greater emphasis on ‘harm reduction strategies’ and a review of drug treatment in prisons.

    A confidential report is circulating among senior officers at Scotland Yard on the success of a pilot scheme under which police informally caution people caught in possession of cannabis and then let them go, as opposed to a formal caution at a police station. During the six-month scheme, in Lambeth, London, police gained 1,400 hours of working time, and a significant rise in arrests for Class A drugs was recorded. Reformers will seize on the news as proof that relaxed approaches to cannabis can actually help fight crime.

    A source close to the committee said: ‘The chairman, Chris Mullin MP, is set on these recommendations, and the majority of the committee is behind him.’ Two members are thought to harbour more conservative views.

    Blair has made clear he does not want Labour to be seen as ‘soft on drugs’, limiting potential for legalisation. However, insiders expect that, even if Blunkett insists on cannabis remaining a Class C drug, police will be told informally not to prosecute for possession.

    Lord Falconer, the Housing Minister and a close Blair ally, will meet the Home Office Ministers John Denham and Bob Ainsworth on Tuesday to ‘brainstorm’ ideas for drug law reform.

    Roger Howard, chief executive of the government-funded charity Drugscope, said: ‘For such an influential body to be suggesting such significant reforms is indicative of the pressing need for change.’

    But John Ramsey, a toxicologist at St George’s Hospital Medical School in London, questioned whether heroin on prescription would help to break an addict’s ‘habit of injection’. He added: ‘We should not be telling people that MDMA (ecstasy) is now considered a safe drug.’

    The Department of Health will publish a consultation paper tomorrow on cannabis derivatives dronabinol, made by Solvay Healthcare, and a cannabis-based medicinal extract spray made by GW Pharmaceuticals. Both are still undergoing trials and are unlikely to be licensed for use until 2004.






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Forums Drugs UK: Drug laws revolution set for UK – February 2002