Will Clarke (UK) go soft on LSD and Ecstasy?
Monday 23 January 2006
Charles Clarke has ordered a sweeping review of drug laws which could lead to the effective downgrading of Ecstasy and LSD. The Home Secretary, who caused fury by resisting demands to toughen the rules on cannabis, said the current system of classifying drugs could be torn up.
He is considering a new system which would take into account the ‘social’ consequences of each drug, including links to muggings and burglaries. Drugs are currently split into Class A, B and C.
But critics said it could lead to Ecstasy and LSD - currently Class A - being moved out of the top bracket.
Pro-drug campaigners are expected to argue that, unlike heroin and crack cocaine, they are not addictive and do not force users into a life of crime to fund their habit.
Peter Storer, of the National Drug Prevention Alliance, said: “Any attempt to differentiate between Class A drugs like heroin, cocaine and ecstasy is fraught with risks of unintended consequences.
“It will be sending out a message that one very harmful drug is less dangerous than another. If changes are to be made, they need to be far more carefully thought through than the reclassification of cannabis was.”
The review was announced as critics piled into Mr Clarke for his refusal to reverse Labour’s 2004 decision to downgrade cannabis from Class C to B.
Mr Clarke made the damning admission that he would not have taken the decision if he had been Home Secretary at the time.
And he admitted cannabis was “anything but harmless” after new studies showed causal links to schizophrenia.
But he still accepted the advice of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs - whose members had threatened to resign if overruled - to stick at Class C.
Instead, he ordered an education campaign to reverse the damage done by reclassification - which Mr Clarke conceded had given the impression cannabis was harmless - and a blitz on dealers and drug farms.
Mr Clarke also abandoned plans, first revealed by the Daily Mail last month, to allow people to carry 0.5kg of cannabis leaf - enough to make 2,400 spliffs - and still claim it was for “personal use”.
Any new threshold, he said, would be “considerably lower”.
But Tory shadow home secretary David Davis still launched into a far more ferocious than expected attack.
Pushing aside party leader David Cameron’s more liberal attitude to cannabis, he described Mr Clarke’s decision as “tragic”.
Mr Davis said: “The ongoing confused message will lead some, as it has already, to continue thinking cannabis is a soft, safe drug.”
Jan Berry, chairman of the Police Federation which represents rankand-file officers, said: “We remain convinced that it was wrong to change the classification of cannabis from a Class B to Class C drug in the first instance.
“Changing it back would have been a much stronger message than any advertising campaign could ever deliver.”
Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of mental health charity SANE, attacked Mr Clarke for listening to the advisory council.
The council’s members, she said, did not witness the devastation cannabis causes on young people’s lives when they are struck down by mental illness.
Mr Clarke - who had appeared to be moving towards re-classification earlier this month by revealing he was “very worried” about the link between cannabis and mental illness - defended his decision. He said it was supported by police and most drug and mental health charities.
Mr Clarke last night said he had received e-mails from parents of those who had been killed by cannabis. Most did not agree that the drug should be legalised, he argued.
“Their message is exactly the opposite,” he told Channel 4 News.
But he said there was a need for a complete overhaul of the way drugs are classified and prohibited. The existing system had caused some people to misinterpret the downgrading of cannabis, he added.
Aides said they did not yet know what form the wholesale review - the first since 1971 - would take and there was no question of any drug being downgraded.
But they said they wanted the “social” impact of a drug to be considered. At present, the A, B and C classifications are based on the physical harm caused.
Critics said that, if the result was a system which rated heroin and crack cocaine as the most harmful of all drugs - on both social and medical grounds - that would amount to a downgrading of those which currently share their rating. These include LSD and Ecstasy.
The last major study of drugs laws, carried out by the Police Federation and chaired by Dame Ruth Runciman five years ago, said Ecstasy should be downgraded and that no one should ever go to prison for possessing small amounts of cocaine.
Source : Daily Mail