Alan Travis, home affairs editor
Thursday December 1, 2005
<DIV id=GuardianArticle>All suspects arrested for drug-related crime - currently 240,000 a year - are to be tested for heroin, cocaine and crack by the police under a scheme starting today and those whose results are positive will be required to undergo a compulsory assessment for treatment.
This expansion in compulsory drug testing comes as ministers are considering specific thresholds for the personal possession of different drugs. Carry more and the police will assume you are a dealer. Home Office officials said last night that the government was "minded to set" the limits at 4ozs of cannabis resin, half a kilo of cannabis leaf, 10 ecstasy tablets, or 7g of heroin or crack cocaine.
The Home Office estimates that the expansion of the police compulsory testing programme from those who are charged with drug-related crimes to all those arrested for such offences means the numbers tested will rise from 80,000 to more than 240,000 a year. More than 2,200 people entered the drug treatment programme by this route last month.
The scheme comes into force today in Manchester, Nottingham and South Yorkshire and will follow in the rest of the country next March. First-time drug using offenders will be tested if they are arrested for "trigger offences" including street robbery, burglary, theft and handling stolen goods.
Those who test positive will be required to attend a drug assessment even if they are not charged. A Home Office spokesman said those who refused to provide a sample or undergo the assessment would face a fine of up to £2,500 or three months in prison. The courts are also able to deny bail to someone who refuses assessment or the follow-up treatment and support.
The expansion of the drug intervention programme was announced yesterday by the home secretary, Charles Clarke, in a speech to the national drugs conference in London. It came as Home Office ministers launched a consultation on whether specific limits should be set for the personal possession of heroin, cocaine, crack, ecstasy, amphetamines and cannabis.
The draft limits are based on an informal agreement between Nottinghamshire police and the Crown Prosecution Service. They are: heroin: 7g or 10 or more "wraps" containing 0.1g. Crack cocaine: 7g or 10 wraps of 0.1g. Cocaine: 7g or 10 wraps of 1g. Ecstasy: 10 tablets. Amphetamines: 14g or 10 wraps of 1g. Cannabis: resin - 4ozs or 10 individual pieces; leaf - 0.5 kilos or more than 20 "2 x 2" bags.
The police have resisted setting a specific threshold for cannabis, arguing that it would only lead to street dealers carrying around smaller amounts than the prescribed limits.
Opposition politicians said that the draft thresholds were so high they would make the fight against illegal drug use even harder. "A lot of dealers are going to be let off the hook," said the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, Alistair Carmichael.
It emerged yesterday that Brixton police in south London intend to arrest anyone caught with even a small amount of cannabis from December 12 in a drive to tackle the growing number of drug dealers on Brixton high street.
Brixton was the first London area to pilot the police policy of cautioning but not arresting people possessing small amounts of cannabis.</DIV>