Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Mr Blunkett Is Failing Us on Drugs

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Mr Blunkett Is Failing Us on Drugs

Article excerpt

THE HOME SECRETARY, David Blunkett, is a man of good sense and a shrewd politician. He must therefore be deeply regretting whichever misguided instinct made him embark on a drugs policy which is unravelling by the day and risks delivering what his former 'drugs Czar', the former Chief Constable Keith Hellawell describes in an interview with this paper as "the worst of both worlds". By announcing the reclassification of cannabis from Class B to Class C, he has effectively removed police powers to use a power of arrest against those dealing openly on the streets.

Possession of Class C drugs is only an arrestable offence where intent to supply can be proven - which in practice, is hardly ever, unless a vast volume of drugs is on hand as evidence. Parents and community leaders, worried about the widespread perception that the Government is "going soft" on drugs, will not be reassured by Mr Blunkett's eleventh hour attempt to undo the damage by threatening sentences of 14 years for cannabis supply. As Mr Hellawell points out, once the drug has been downgraded, it is hardly ever possible to convict - let alone to secure a draconian prison sentence. By announcing that there will be no repeat of the Lambeth pilot scheme, the Home Secretary has responded belatedly to concerns that the "softly softly" experiment was resulting in more children being exposed to the drug and an influx of dealers of both hard and soft drugs into the area. Commander Paddick's scheme is now said to have saved the equivalent police time of two officers.

That may be so. But it is a small saving bought at immeasurable cost to the authority of the police in the borough and has caused deep concerns that the socially deprived are being exposed to harm in order to satisfy middle class desires for a more liberal approach to cannabis.

The present situation is no advance on the "blind eye" turned by the police to modest and discreet cannabis use - a happy fudge which would have been better left undisturbed. That way, the police could set their own priorities, without forfeiting their authority on the street. Once lost, that authority is difficult to regain. …

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