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Keith Hellawell speaks to the BBC
"All I was articulating was the government policy"
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Sunday, 6 February, 2000, 14:23 GMT
Hellawell: Relax cannabis policing

Drugs czar Keith Hellawell: Focus on hard drugs

Drugs czar Keith Hellawell has called for police to stop pursuing cannabis users so rigorously in an attempt to focus on drugs which cause "the major harm".

Mr Hellawell, the UK's anti-drugs co-ordinator, told The Observer newspaper police should focus on heroin and cocaine dealers and not be distracted by users of soft drugs.

We should focus our attention on drugs which cause the major harm, which are heroin and cocaine
Keith Hellawell
He said too many people were being convicted for the possession of small amounts of cannabis at the expense of efforts to catch Class A drug dealers.

But Mr Hellawell told the BBC he was not advocating a change in the law.

Speaking about possession of cannabis he said: "I don't support legalisation nor decriminalisation nor 'depenalisation.'"

"I was explaining that the police have latitude in this country - they don't have to prosecute everyone that they arrest for an offence. " he said.

Hague 'worried'

The drugs czar also denied his views were at odds with his former police colleagues.

Mr Hellawell's comments, which follow calls from the Liberal Democrats for a Royal Commission on decriminalising cannabis use, "worried" Tory leader William Hague.

Speaking on BBC One's Breakfast With Frost programme, he said: "I think we should not take our eye away from cannabis and other soft drugs.

"It is very clear from talking to police around the country that they often leads onto the hard drugs."

He said "new action" was needed to tackle the problem, adding his party was announcing a new policy cracking down on drugs in schools this week.

The debate over cannabis continues
Shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe said she disagreed with the drugs czar's views.

She told the BBC: "If I were to propose a shift, instead of simply being to emphasise the turning of a blind eye towards (cannabis) possession I would go the other way.

"I would say we should actually toughen up on our attitude towards possession and if we are particularly vigilant about possession in the early stages it can actually prevent the use of harder drugs and of pushing at a later stage. "

But Cabinet Office Minister Mo Mowlam, who is effectively Mr Hellawell's boss, said: "No-one is saying, yet, that cannabis should be decriminalised, depenalised.

"What I want to do is work hard at the strategy we have to see if it could make a bigger impact."

'No legislative change'

Of decriminalisation, Dr Mowlam told ITV's Sunday Programme: "I never count anything in or anything out but at the moment there is no intention so to do."

In a statement issued through the Cabinet Office Mr Hellawell said: "I have not called for any legislative changes.

"I strongly support the law in relation to cannabis. I believe however that we should focus our attention on drugs which cause the major harm, which are heroin and cocaine.

"This is embodied within the government's 10-year strategy tackling drugs to build a better Britain which is already providing more treatment and breaking the link between drugs and crime."

A Cabinet Office spokeswoman added: "That does not mean that police do not look at cannabis use, just that they focus on heroin and cocaine."

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See also:
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