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Drug survey shows 30% support limited legalisation of cannabis

THIRTY per cent of people are in favour of a limited legalisation of drugs such as cannabis, according to the most detailed survey of drug use carried out for the Government.

The surprisingly high figure for some decriminalisation has surprised researchers, given that neither the legalisation debate nor the problem of supply have been given widespread publicity.

Nevertheless the fact that there was virtually no support for comprehensive decriminalisation, will reinforce the Government's determination to maintain current legal controls - in spite of the growing number of calls from senior police officers, the judiciary and drug agencies for a radical change in drug policy.

Last month Raymond Kendall, the head of Interpol, said drug use should no longer be a criminal offence, with resources spent on treatment and prevention and tackling drug dealers.

The survey of 5,000 people in four cities - Glasgow, Bradford, Nottingham and south-east London - found that more men than women, those from the higher social classes and those from the younger 'at risk' population were more likely than other groups to favour limited legalisation.

In contast to previous studies, which have led to prevention programmes being aimed at those at the lower end of the earnings scale, the study also found that high earners from the upper and middle classes were, in fact, the biggest users of illegal drugs - in particular cannabis.

However the study found little evidence to support claims that cannabis usage could lead on to more dangerous drugs such as heroin, crack or cocaine. There was, though, a link between cannabis, alcohol and smoking.

The survey, carried out by academics from Sheffield University, estimated that about one in five people in Britain had taken some illegal drug, but less than 1 per cent had used hard drugs.

Regular hard drug use, often through injection, was more likely to be found among the C2 social class of skilled manual workers and the unskilled D and E groups.

Drug trends in British cities were broadly similar to those in other European countries and cities. Most people said they had little difficulty obtaining drugs when they wanted, so that any restriction on drug usage was governed by personal choice rather than any control on supplies.

The survey concluded the most prevalent drug users in the general population were likely to be young white males in wealthier social groups.

Drug Usage and Drugs Prevention: The views and habits of the general public; Home Office; pounds 18.