Hard drug users should not go to jail, say MPs

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A sweeping review of drugs policy in Britain is expected to recommend next week that users of illegal substances such as cocaine and heroin should be offered treatment to help them kick their habit rather than face jail.

A sweeping review of drugs policy in Britain is expected to recommend next week that users of illegal substances such as cocaine and heroin should be offered treatment to help them kick their habit rather than face jail.

MPs on the committee will recommend that prisons are not the best way to ensure drug addicts overcome their problems and will recommend better access to treatment programmes. Addicts who steal and commit fraud to fund drug-taking should be offered places on treatment programmes instead of jail.

The long-awaited report by MPs, which follows 10 months of evidence from experts, drugs organisations and the police, will say that police and court time should not be wasted on punishing people who use small amounts for recreational purposes.

Cannabis users should not face arrest, the report is expected to say, endorsing the trial scheme being operated in Lambeth where police have not pursued casual users.

The report, which will be published on Wednesday, will say that police energy should focus on catching the criminal gangs who supply hard drugs rather than on recreational users of marijuana, including those who grow small quantities for their own use or that of friends.

They will say that the police should focus on dealing with addictive class A drugs, such as heroin and crack cocaine, which are often linked to criminal behaviour.

But it will recommend that greater use is made of new initiatives, including Arrest Referral schemes and Drug Treatment and Testing Orders, which force offenders to undergo rehabilitation – sometimes in drug treatment clinics, following evidence from police that they could reduce crime.

The report will express the need for a national strategy on dealing with drug users so that there is availability around the country for places in the treatment centres.

An early draft of the report also recommended that ecstasy should be downgraded to a class B drug. This was regarded as controversial by some members of the committee who said the pills, mainly used by clubbers, were dangerous and had caused several deaths.

Medical evidence presented to the inquiry found that cannabis was far less harmful than other drugs such as cocaine and heroin and although it was not "harm free", it "compares favourably (in terms of health implications) with legal drugs widely used such as alcohol and tobacco".

The report will support the Home Secretary's suggestion that cannabis be reclassified as a class C drug.

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