Former chief constable joins drug legalisation campaign

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The Independent Online

A former chief constable tonight reveals that he has become a leading member of a group campaigning for the legalisation of all drugs.

A former chief constable tonight reveals that he has become a leading member of a group campaigning for the legalisation of all drugs.

Francis Wilkinson, who retired as Gwent's top policeman earlier this year and has recently spoken out against the Government's prohibition policy on drugs, tells BBC1's Panorama that he has become a patron of campaign group Transform.

The controversial documentary also reveals results of research showing widespread police tolerance of cannabis, which officers of all ranks say they regard as less harmful and addictive than alcohol or tobacco.

Mr Wilkinson joins a former head of Scotland Yard's Drug Squad, Edward Ellison - already a patron of Transform - to call for drug prohibition to be replaced with an effective system of regulation and control.

Speaking to reporter Peter Marshall, he says: "The British crime survey shows that over the last couple of years cocaine consumption has doubled.

"It will double again in a couple of years unless we do something to manage the supply in a more effective way.

"What I want do is to take the criminal out of the market. At present the whole drugs supply business, this whole international industry, is controlled by criminals.

"If we look at the social damage caused by the present regime - and I mean all the violence and abuse that is carried on through the fact that it's a criminal business - if we can get rid of that, then the fact that we are supplying the drug through more highly regulated mechanisms locally will probably be a good thing."

The programme features the results of a three-year study tracking the changes in police attitudes towards illicit drugs.

The study, which looked at the reactions of 95 officers in three different forces to various hypothetical cases involving cannabis, heroin and Ecstasy, reveals police are more tolerant of drugs than they were ten years ago.

More than two-thirds of those surveyed said they would probably not prosecute a man for having four cannabis plants, because it was a "run of the mill" case and the suspect was likely to be released with a caution.

However, more than two-thirds said possession of a small amount of heroin was a "serious" drugs case and they would prosecute. A tough line was also taken with Ecstasy, with nine out of 10 police saying possession of 20 pills was a "serious" offence.

Police officers rated cannabis below coffee on an addiction scale and only slightly higher on a potential harm scale. Cannabis was far below alcohol or tobacco on both measures.

The programme shows that when the drugs war began in the 1960s, ignorance was as rife among the police as the general public.

One police officer explains how, when he first caught someone in possession of cannabis, he thought he had merely discovered an Oxo cube.

High profile examples were made of icons like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones when they were caught in possession of soft drugs.

Today, police recognise that arresting pop stars is no effective deterrent to the average user, especially in a culture where magazines run articles about their readers' favourite drugs, the programme finds.

Panorama is screened by BBC1 tonight at 10pm.