I have served on an inner London division for nearly 10 years and have witnessed the damage caused to, and by, the victims of drug addiction. Hard drugs are not romantic. They destroy and debase lives and those who deal in them should feel the full weight of the law levelled at them. I have also, far more frequently, witnessed the damage caused to people's lives by the abuse of alcohol and yet this drug, claiming the lives of tens of thousands every year, is given the official stamp of approval.
What I have never seen, and never expect to, is a 19-year-old prostitute selling her body by the side of the road to fund her next 1/8th of hash. Nor have I been called upon to attend a flat where a hashish-crazed dope fiend has beaten their partner to a pulp and trashed the furniture ... It doesn't happen.
So, where are these scourges of society that Keith Hellawell, newly appointed tsar in the war against drugs, has declared to be his targets? Are they lining the backstreets of King's Cross, scratching themselves raw while waiting for their "man"? Are they occupying some Trocchi underworld of candles and cockroaches? Who are they, and how will we know them when we meet them?
The chances are, if you fall between the ages of 13 and 60, you know the answers to these questions because they are your friends and family, your children and their friends, you and me. There are no tell-tale signs, no track marks or pocked faces, and they rarely come to the notice of the authorities as a direct result of their taste for what, by all credible accounts, is a fairly innocuous drug. I know this and you know this and, more pertinently, so do Keith Hellawell and his paymasters. This is why he has stated his intention to target the rave scene. It is easy pickings.
If the police stop and search a sufficient number of young people at the weekend they are bound to discover that a proportion of them are carrying illegal drugs, and cannabis will inevitably be among them. Continue to do this for a season or two and the police "hit rate" is bound to climb through the ceiling, but to what avail? It is a thin line between legitimate targeting of known criminals and sending your men out on fishing expeditions, and what Mr Hellawell is proposing is to take a giant step over that line.
An average of between 90,000 and 95,000 people are arrested annually for drug offences and this, by any yardstick, is an impressive haul. The scale of this figure supports the media-enhanced fears of the parent class that we are being overrun by dope fiends. It also permits the apologists for law and order to blame the rising tide of reported crime on the degenerate users of these drugs. We have been told so many times that these fiends are responsible for vast amounts of crime in order to feed their habits that it is beginning to look like a self-evident truth.
Once we have established that the majority of crime can be directly linked to drug use and are seen to be winning substantial battles in the war against drug users it must stand to reason that similar victories will follow in the war against criminality. To pursue this argument requires a large dose of credulity on the part of the public and not a little blurring over of the facts by the Home Office and its police representatives.
The cost, at present, is levied against more than 80,000 otherwise law- abiding citizens every year, who are dragged from grace and branded as criminals. Not because they have hurt anybody or because they have stolen or damaged property, not because they need protecting from themselves but because they have chosen, in their private moments, to flaunt an unreasonable, impractical and unenforceable law. We would achieve as much credibility if we were to target and prosecute every taxi driver who failed to carry the required bale of hay.
As a teetotaller I have always maintained that I would prefer to know that my children were smoking cannabis than drinking alcohol, and I know that at least one of my children enjoys a social smoke with his friends. This is fine by me, the only serious reservation I have is that he might be unfortunate or foolish enough to get himself arrested. If I was not a serving police officer I would gladly join them.
The fact remains that the law creates more victims, damages more lives and sows the seed for more fear and anger among the public than hard drugs ever could. The only time I arrested someone for possession of cannabis, it all but ruined his life. A 17-year-old Asian, he resisted when he was escorted to the van and was further charged for assaulting police: a far more serious offence than that for which he had been arrested. He ended up in jail, where he attempted suicide.
The lobby for change in the law in now huge. Any political party that ignores this is insane, and any police service that chooses to do the same is sailing dangerously close to policing unlawfully.
The police service has a statutory duty to police the population but only with the consent of the people, and the position that Mr Hellawell has adopted calls into question whether or not this is being done. We are frequently directed to compare our crime rate with that in the US, but perhaps Mr Hellawell would do well to do the same. If he was chief of police in a Mid-Western city and insisted on enforcing a law with such disregard for the wishes of the people, he would be in danger of being voted out of a job at the next election.Reuse content