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Thursday, 16 May, 2002, 14:40 GMT 15:40 UK
'Brixton's gone to pot'
Chris Claudius
Chris Claudius: "I used to really like the vibe here"
How is Lambeth, in south London, faring since police took a "softly softly" approach to cannabis possession? Not well, says Chris Claudius, a 32-year-old music producer, who has rallied fellow residents against rising crime.

I've lived in Brixton for five years and it's really changed in the past 10 months.

I've been mugged and my friends have been mugged

My road used to be a crack area and then got cleaned up. I could walk around even at 3am with never any trouble.

But in the past year I've been mugged, my friends have been mugged and two of the shops I go to have been held up.

Brixton off-licence owner Winston Paryag
Shop owner Winston Paryag: "They go softly softly on criminals as well"
The guy who runs my local off-licence got done over by eight guys with guns; and the owner of the organic foods shop has spent about 1,000 on extra security since he was robbed.

I would tie this in with the relaxation of the law on possession. The papers go on about crime falling but that's just ridiculous.

Some days there's up to three dealers on each street corner; while some are quite sweet, others can be heavy handed. One guy threatened to cut me up if I didn't buy off him.

Drugs tourists

People have always smoked cannabis in Brixton - everyone knows that, people have walked down the street smoking spliffs for years.

Cannabis campaigner
Campaigners welcomed the pilot scheme
But now the word has spread around that it's legal in Lambeth - even though it's not - we get people new to London coming here looking to score.

If I walk down Landor Rd or Coldharbour Lane, every 200 yards I'll be asked if I want dope, if I want skunk. I say: 'Sorry, I've gone off that stuff,' but still they hassle me.

I'm fed up with being approached and hassled all the time. That's why I organised a petition of local residents, calling for CCTV and more police on the beat.

Click here to see what others have to say

Chris Claudius
Chris organised a petition against rising crime
I e-mailed it to my local MP, and all of sudden we were organising an emergency meeting to discuss the rising crime in the area.

People from all walks of life were there, representing the mix of people who live in Brixton: housewives, people with really good jobs, artists, music types, local shop owners, a couple of people from the housing estate.

We've since handed the petition in, having collected more than 600 signatures, but not much has changed yet.

'Leave law alone'

I was happy when Brian Paddick went [the police commander who introduced the "softly softly" scheme and was later moved from his post while allegations about his private life were investigated].

Brian Paddick: Many in Brixton want him back
He meant well but the police should have just kept shut about their plans to stop arresting people with small amounts of cannabis. They wanted to cut the amount of time filling in forms - so just do it, don't tell the whole world so that people start thinking it's legal.

I think they should have either legalised cannabis or left the law alone.

I used to really like the vibe in Brixton but now I can't wait to get out. My wife and I could put our flat on the market, but with house prices shooting up we could only afford to buy a house in another dodgy area.

Real Time gives people a chance to tell their own stories in their own words. If you've got something to say, click here.

Some of your comments so far:

I am 15 years old and I am so angry at what is going on in Lambeth. You can't expect to just downgrade cannabis, it's making things easier for other dealers. The majority of teenagers accept cannabis as just another social drug, like alcohol. This is why it should be legalised, before a whole bunch of teenagers start getting onto heavier drugs because these are thrown in our faces on the streets, when we only want to get hold of a bit of dope.
Craig, England

The people that come to Lambeth for cannabis are very different to the crack dealers, addicts and pimps behind the current rise in often violent crime. We had a crack house on the road I used to live on. That was shut down, but there are now three more and residents are often too scared to go outside as the dealers openly prowl the street. Brixton is a wonderful community so lets not make things worse by missing the real issue.
Sophie, UK

This is the problem of trying to do this as a pilot in such a small area: you get an influx from areas where the laws are more strictly enforced. Presumably we will now be told that this policy has failed, and real discussion of the drug laws will yet again be waved off.
John, UK

Why do we talk about the legalities when we should really be talking about attitude to drugs and the unknown dangers of them? Come on, we are endorsing a nation to start frying its brains.
Jason Christie, UK

Giving warnings then confiscating cannabis frees up the police to concentrate on serious issues like crack dealing and robbery. A few more drug tourists buying (mainly bogus drugs) is a small price to pay for better policing.
Christian Evans, England

I've lived in Brixton since the late '80s when it was a more dangerous and rundown area. People have always hassled passers-by to sell them dope (more likely oregano) and there has been no discernable increase since the softly softly approach on cannabis. I'd rather put up with a few misinformed dope tourists than a greater incidence of crack dealing, which would be the effect of returning to the waste in police resources represented by targeting a few harmless potheads.
Ade, UK

Selling drugs to "a few harmless potheads" is innocuous enough. But there are two forms of crime that always accompany it: competition between those selling it, which leads to violent "turf wars"; and the thieving that SOME of the user community undertake to fund their habit.
Tony Armour, UK

I was brought up in the Easterhouse during the late 70s and early 80s when heroin was rampant. Mothers tried all they could to help their kids, but had minimal support from the government or police. These days there is so much information to help you tackle the problem. I'm not sure if today's government is on the right track with the softly softly approach. But I am sure that we should shift our focus to crack cocaine - how many pot-heads do you know with a gun?
David Watson, Scotland

I don't think the relaxed approach to cannabis has been implemented the right way. Coldharbour Lane and Loughborough Junction attract more dodgy characters and I feel uncomfortable walking around there. The changes should have been more drastic, regulating the sale of cannabis through licensed shops so dealers with other drugs to sell are not attracted to the area.
Yolanda, UK

I used to think that the UK should decriminalise cannabis, but now I have changed my mind. There are parts of Amsterdam where you can't walk down the street without people hassling you to buy crack/coke/E/whatever. The only sensible way forward is to legalise it, to have it regulated and taxed by the government and sold in shops, thereby taking the dealers of other substances out of the cannabis market.
Phil, UK

These things take time to show their real effects - the relaxing of laws in Holland, coupled with real education about drugs, has led from the average age of a heroin addict [rising] from 14 to the age of 40.
Brixton Harry, UK

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Lambeth scheme




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21 Mar 02 | England
27 Mar 02 | England
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