Major rejects calls to reform drugs policy: Government under pressure to restore cuts in funding

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The Independent Online
THE Government came under pressure to restore cuts in funding for drug prevention yesterday after the Prime Minister's office rejected calls for drug sales to be licensed.

Ruling out any move towards decriminalising illegal drugs, a Downing Street spokesman said the Government was seeking to reduce drug abuse by curbing demand as well as cracking down on the supply of drugs.

Downing Street's comments followed yesterday's suggestions by Commander John Grieve, head of criminal intelligence at the Metropolitan Police, that licensing of the supply and use of illegal drugs should be considered by the Government.

A Downing Street source dismissed legalisation as an idea favoured by right-wing free marketeers in the United States. 'It was in P J O'Rourke's book, Parliament of Whores. We are not having that.'

There has been growing tension between the Home Office and the Department of Health over the direction of the anti- drugs policy on the Cabinet sub- committee, known as EDH(D), which is responsible for government thinking on the issue.

The Prime Minister said in October last year: 'I have long believed that the only long-term solution to the drugs problem should be to reduce the demand for, as well as the supply of, drugs. This has been the main thrust of British government strategy for tackling drug misuse in recent years and the approach was fully endorsed by the World Ministerial Summit on Drugs in London in 1990.' Mr Major set out his strategy in the foreword to a book on drugs prevention by Tim Rathbone, a senior Tory backbench MP. But Mr Rathbone, chairman of a cross-party parliamentary group on drug abuse, yesterday criticised the Government for cutting funds for those in the front line of the battle to persuade young people not to take up drugs.

Mr Rathbone said drugs education co-ordinators had been abolished with ring-fencing of their funds in the education budget. Health ministers were also criticised earlier this year for dropping ring-fencing of drug and alcohol services run by local authorities under the care- in-the-community programme.

But Mr Rathbone also strongly opposed the legalisation of drugs at the conference of the Association of Chief Police Officers last year. 'It is doing nobody a service if you try and find a short cut and that is what legalisation is,' he said.

The all-party group will be pressing ministers to restore drugs education co-ordinators, who were dropped from the education budget.

Brian Mawhinney, the Minister of State for Health, is also concerned about the policy of drug abuse clinics which are funded by the Department of Health.

He believes they have failed to give priority to getting abusers off drugs altogether.