British Police Ask for Ecstasy Penalties to be Reduced as Drug War Collapse Continues 11/2/01

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Last week, DRCNet reported on the final ignoble collapse of the Tony Blair government's steely resolve never to soften the marijuana laws (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/208.html#ukdecrim). Despite Blair's Labor government long-standing vows, Home Secretary David Blunkett announced that as of next spring, cannabis will be moved to the softest drug schedule -- along with steroids and anti-depressants -- and cannabis users and possessors will no longer be subject to arrest.

That move is not quite a done deal -- it must be discussed by the government's Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs and approved by parliament -- but it is difficult to see how the desires of the majority government's Home Secretary will be overridden.

As if virtual decriminalization of cannabis were not enough, the organization representing Britain's top police commanders has called for relaxation of penalties for ecstasy, the popular dance club and rave drug. The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) said that ecstasy was incorrectly scheduled as a most serious Schedule A drug, along with heroin, cocaine, and LSD, and should instead be moved to Schedule B. (Cannabis is currently a Schedule B drug, but would move to the lowest schedule, Schedule C, under Labor's new plan.)

"We need to achieve a balance of police resources focusing a greater priority on class A drugs," the chairman of ACPO's drugs committee Andy Hayman told The Observer newspaper. "ACPO's submission to the Independent Inquiry into Drugs, based on the most up-to-date medical and scientific research, was that some drugs seem to be in too high a class, including ecstasy," said Hayman, a Deputy Assistant Commissioner in London's Metropolitan Police.

But the group would want further review of the medical evidence on ecstasy before the law was changed, Hayman added.

A key member of the government's Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, Roger Howard, who runs Drugscope (http://www.drugscope.org.uk), a leading drug policy nonprofit, has also joined the call to relax ecstasy penalties. He told the Sunday Times (London) that the council had seen new evidence supporting relaxation of the laws. "We have reached no conclusions," said Howard, "but this [evidence] lends support to the view that some drugs have not been appropriately classified, and that's not just cannabis."

Home Secretary Blunkett has rejected rescheduling ecstasy, but his is the same office that only two weeks ago was saying the same thing about cannabis.

British studies suggest that some half-million people take ecstasy every weekend in Britain.

Meanwhile, lost beneath the hubbub stirred up by the government's sudden shift on cannabis and the new talk about ecstasy, the parliamentary Home Affairs Select Committee hearings on drug policy have been largely neglected. "We activists have been looking forward to the committee hearings, but Blunkett's cannabis announcement really stopped the party," said Andria Mordaunt of the British drug policy group the Mordaunt Trust. "Members have been raking Home Office officials over the coals for not examining decriminalization," she told DRCNet.

Sue Killen, Home Office director of drug strategy, took most of the heat. Committee chairman Chris Mullen criticized the Home Office for failing to examine the effects of decriminalization or legalization of all drugs. Mullen demanded that the Home Office this week provide a detailed rebuttal of arguments for decriminalization, if it could.

"To my knowledge we have not sat down and done a major study on decriminalization of all drugs, including class A," Killen had to admit. Officials had instead concentrated on the problems of addiction among drug users and the harm drug trafficking does to communities, she said.

As of press time, the committee is still waiting for that rebuttal of decriminalization.

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Issue #209, 11/2/01 Editorial: Lessons Not Learned | Medical Marijuana Armageddon: Feds Declare War on California Buyers Clubs | Drug War Prisoner Given Solitary Confinement for Terror War Thought Crime | British Police Ask for Ecstasy Penalties to be Reduced as Drug War Collapse Continues | Colombia: Ambassador Patterson and Senator Graham Play the Terrorism Card | Border Smuggling Resumes After Temporary Post-September 11th Lull | New Jersey Amnesty International Chapter Puts US Drug Policy on International Human Rights Group's Agenda | Arkansas Drug Reformers on the Move -- Poll Shows Support for Medical Marijuana | Chapare, Bolivia: Increased Militarization Heightens Tensions in Coca-Growing Region | Stop the Presses: Casual Drug Users Have, Keep Jobs, Study Finds | Alerts: HEA Drug Provision, Drug Czar Nomination, DEA Hemp Ban, Ecstasy Bill, Mandatory Minimums, Medical Marijuana | The Reformer's Calendar

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