UK Drug Body Says Punishment Does Not Stop Drug Use
(c) Reuters, Nov. 20, 2001.

LONDON, Nov 20 (Reuters) - People should not face criminal charges for possessing small amounts of any illegal drug, a leading UK drugs research organisation said on Tuesday.

"The evidence shows that criminal sanctions do not stop people using drugs," DrugScope Chief Executive Roger Howard said in a statement.

He said taking people to court for possessing small amounts of any drug was not a proportionate response.

Referring to cannabis, a spokesman for DrugScope said: "Criminalisation is more harmful than the drug itself."

A representative of the organisation, which provides input to policy development, was due to brief a British parliamentary committee to make the point on decriminalisation.

The comments come nearly a month after Home Secretary (interior minister) David Blunkett reclassified cannabis so that possession of small amounts is no longer deemed an arrestable offence. The ruling put the drug in the same category as steroids and anti-depressants.

Mike Ashton, editor of the scientific journal Drug and Alcohol Findings, argued in a report commissioned by DrugScope that cannabis legislation has no effect on patterns of drug use.

Ashton examined six legal frameworks ranging from total prohibition of cannabis to free availability, and evidence from changes in the law in Australia, parts of the United States and the Netherlands.

He said the most harmful effects of the drug -- widespread use and high levels of personal use -- were unaffected by changes in the law.

"It is clear that cannabis use has remained relatively unaffected by different legislative frameworks," Ashton said.

The report said limited legal use of cannabis would remove it from the black market, sever the link with organised crime, create revenue through tax and prevent minors from using it.

But Ashton did not advocate free availability of cannabis.

"The changes we have seen so far are very, very short of legalisation, even in the Netherlands," Ashton said. "It is likely that the free availability option...would result in some increase in cannabis experimentation."

When addressing the parliamentary committee, DrugScope intended to raise the question of reclassifying all drugs and extending the prescription of drugs such as heroin.

A spokesman said: "Blunkett has already made significant steps in the right
direction. We hope it will be the beginning and not the end of reform."

Additional Sources

DrugScope's Press release can be read at:

Details of DrugScope's plan can be found at at:

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