Drugs law overhaul urged by MPs
By BBC News – 22 May, 2002
Copyright: BBC News
A radical overhaul of Britain’s drug laws should be implemented including a downgrading of the dance drug ecstasy, according to an influential committee of MPs.
But Home Secretary David Blunkett has already said the downgrading of ecstasy from class A to class B is not on the government’s agenda.
In their report, MPs from the Home Affairs committee backed Mr Blunkett’s moves to make cannabis a class C drug.
They also recommended trials of heroin prescription programmes for addicts and the provision of safe injecting rooms for heroin users.
Although the home secretary rejected the proposal for so-called ‘shooting galleries’ for drug injectors.
The committee says the last 30 years show policies based mainly on enforcement are bound to fail.
But they stop short of pressing for any illegal drugs to be legalised or decriminalised.
They said such a move would inevitability result in a “significant increase in the number of users, especially among the very young”.
Committee chairman Chris Mullin urged the government to “follow the science” when it came to their drug policies.
There was “no point in pretending that ecstasy is as harmful as heroin” and to suggest it was would undermine the credibility of drugs advice handed out to children.
Although Mr Mullin – a former Labour minister – insisted that no-one was suggesting ecstasy could not be dangerous and that class B drugs still carried stiff penalties for dealers and users.
“All drug taking is bad for you and should be discouraged but we need to get real and focus on the 200 to 250,000 or so problematic drug users … who mainly use heroin,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
The committee’s recommendation that ecstasy should become a class B drug would put it on the same level as the current classification for cannabis and amphetamines.
“The harm caused by illegal drugs varies immensely from one drug to another and – since most users and potential users know this – there is no point pretending otherwise,” the report says.
“To those who suggest that to reclassify ecstasy is somehow to condone its use, we emphatically reject this.”
The reclassification would reduce the maximum sentence for those found carrying ecstasy from seven years to five.
Those supplying or making the drug would be jailed for 14 years at most rather than facing the current possible life prison term.
The report prompted Janet Betts, whose daughter Leah died after taking ecstasy, to accuse the committee of being “totally misinformed”.
Mrs Betts urged Prime Minister Tony Blair to “have the balls” to stick by his pledge not to downgrade the drug.
Mr Blunkett did just that in his response to the MPs’ report.
“Ecstasy can, and does, kill unpredictably and there is no such thing as a safe dose,” said the home secretary.
“I believe it should remain class A. Reclassification of ecstasy is not on the government’s agenda.”
Mr Blunkett did, however, welcome the report as “thought provoking” and said it was right to urge a new focus on reducing the harm caused by drugs.
The home secretary wants more heroin made available on prescription.
But he urged caution on how far this should be extended – the MPs want trials of carefully supervised prescription, as happens in the Netherlands and Switzerland.
That idea is part of the committee’s drive to focus on Britain’s 250,000 “problem” drug users, who need £13,000 a year from crime to feed their habit.
The MPs also want a new offence of “supply for gain” to be introduced to draw a new distinction between dealers and those who give drugs to friends for personal use.
The report has been welcomed by civil rights groups and some drugs charities.
Roger Howard, chief executive of charity DrugScope, said it represented the next steps for UK drugs laws.