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The BBC's Karen Allen reports
"Despite record drug seizures there is little evidence supplies are drying up"
 real 28k

Committee Chairman, Lady Runciman
"Treat misuse as a health problem, not a crime problem"
 real 28k

Drugs Campaigner Paul Betts
"This could let dealers get away with murder"
 real 28k

Keith Hellawell, drugs czar
"I would rather stick with our strategy and not give mixed messages"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 28 March, 2000, 14:42 GMT 15:42 UK
Drugs policy change rejected

Ecstasy: Report recommended downgrading it to Class B
Calls for changes in the law over ecstasy and cannabis have been ruled out by government drugs czar Keith Hellawell.

A report from the independent Police Foundation has recommended an end to prison sentences for users of such drugs and other wide-ranging changes.

But Mr Hellawell said at a conference in Brighton on Tuesday: "There will be no change in the categorisation of cannabis and ecstasy. We see no justification for it. It would not improve the situation, it would make it worse."

What we're concerned to do is to deliver accurate messages about it and to ensure that young people do not devalue the most dangerous drugs of all... heroin, opiates and cocaine

Lady Runciman
The Police Foundation report recommends changes in the classification of individual drugs and associated penalties, with ecstasy and LSD moved from Class A to Class B, the same category as amphetamines.

But the report does not suggest any drugs should be legalised.

The two-year study was carried out by the Police Foundation, a body partly funded by the Home Office with a panel including drugs experts, police officers and senior lawyers.

The report argues that current laws have had limited success in deterring people from taking drugs.

The inquiry, called Drugs and the Law, recommends that heroin and cocaine remain Class A drugs, but cannabis should be transferred from Class B to Class C.

And it calls for a new offence targeting persistent drugs dealers and greater confiscation of assets from traffickers.

On prison sentences, the inquiry recommends they should be abolished for possession of Class B and C drugs, while the maximum prison sentences for possession of Class A drugs should be reduced.

The report also proposes an end to the ban on the therapeutic use of cannabis for specified medical purposes.

'Accurate messages'

Lady Ruth Runciman, the former head of the government's drug advisory council who chaired the report committee, said the foundation wanted a shift in balance "towards treating use as a health problem, not a crime problem and becoming tougher on those who traffic".

joint-smoking bunny
The legalisation of cannabis has massive support
She went on: "We have been concerned to ensure that the categorisation of drugs reflects up-to-date knowledge and applies penalties that are proportionate to the harm.

"Ecstasy is a dangerous drug and we are not saying in any way that it isn't.

"What we're concerned to do is to deliver accurate messages about it and to ensure that young people do not devalue the most dangerous drugs of all ... heroin, opiates and cocaine."

'Slap on the wrist'

But Mr Hellawell said decriminalising cannabis and removing prison sentences for possessing class B drugs was not the answer.

He said: "As far as cannabis is concerned, the report talks about depenalisation, making it an offence for which you cannot go to prison.

"But there are problems with that. What happens if someone is caught in possession of cannabis on a number of occasions? If you have no sanction apart from a slap on the wrist you have virtually decriminalised it.

"In relation to prison, very few people go to jail for cannabis. But if people continue to flout the law, prison must be the final sanction."

Downing Street had already indicated that it the government was not prepared to soften its stance on drugs.

The prime minister's official spokesman, Alastair Campbell, said ministers had made it clear that relaxing the laws would send the wrong signal.

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See also:

28 Mar 00 | UK Politics
Drugs czar defends strategy
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Cannabis: The debate
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Drugs debate stays behind cabinet doors
17 Feb 00 | UK
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