Tories preach zero tolerance on drugs fines

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People found in possession of just one cannabis joint should be liable for at least a £100 fine under new measures proposed by the Conservative Party.

People found in possession of just one cannabis joint should be liable for at least a £100 fine under new measures proposed by the Conservative Party.

It has criticised existing drugs rules which it says mean many people committing minor drugs offences are not punished but simply let off with a caution.

The new "zero tolerance" measures would see police handing out spot fines to anyone caught in possession of any illegal drug, no matter how small the amount.

But in an echo of Prime Minister Tony Blair's controversial suggestion that anti-social behaviour should attract fixed penalties, the Tories have admitted they have not yet tested the idea's practicality by talking to police officers about it.

Labour said the proposal, to be unveiled by shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe at the Conservative conference in Bournemouth, showed the Tories were "all over the place on drugs". But it is expected to win enthusiastic support from her audience.

Also at the conference today, shadow foreign secretary Francis Maude was due to call for a "multi-system" European Union, in which member states would be allowed to pick and mix the treaties and agreements they sign up to.

Miss Widdecombe was due to tell delegates that drugs were a "cancer that is eating away at our country" and that the Tories were no longer willing to tolerate their possession. She will claim up to a third of the £50 billion cost of crime to the country each year can be blamed on drug-related offences.

At present, some 50,000 of the 100,000 people arrested with drugs each year are released with a police caution, and some forces are believed to overlook small-scale use of softer drugs like cannabis, particularly at events such as the Notting Hill Carnival.

Under Miss Widdecombe's proposals, £100 fixed penalty notices would be handed out for a first offence of possession, with tougher punishments for subsequent incidents.

And changes to the laws on possession would be introduced to allow police to issue charges on the basis of traces of drugs found in users' bloodstreams.

Conservative officials last night confirmed that the proposals would mean people caught with a single cannabis cigarette, or traces of cannabis in their bloodstream, facing a minimum £100 fine and acquiring a criminal record.

Miss Widdecombe was expected to say: "We will no longer ignore possession. No longer will those who use drugs get away scot-free with a caution."

The Tories would also introduce a new mandatory driving ban for anyone caught behind the wheel while under the influence of drugs, Miss Widdecombe was due to say.

Pilot schemes in cities with particularly bad drug problems would see numbers of dedicated narcotics officers multiplied tenfold, in a strategy to "clean up" notorious neighbourhoods which could be rolled out nationwide if successful, with anything up to 2,500 new drugs police.

And a new criminal offence of substantial possession' would remove the onus on prosecutors to prove that someone picked up with medium-scale quantities of drugs intended to supply them to others.

Instead, there would be a sliding scale of punishments to reflect the increasing likelihood that someone carrying larger amounts of drugs is intending to supply them to others.

Miss Widdecombe will say: "The more drugs you have on you, the tougher the penalties. That's common sense.

"That's what we will do. Real zero tolerance."

Conservative officials said that the proposed new offence had gained a warm reception from senior police in the Superintendents' Association, who are frustrated at only being able to charge people they believe are drug-dealers with the comparatively minor offence of possession.

Labour said that the Tories were "all over the place" on drugs and accused them of an "extraordinary U-turn".

A spokesman said: "Only a few months ago, William Hague was calling for mandatory minimum prison sentences for those caught possessing drugs.

"The Tories are all over the place on drugs. This week the Government introduced new court orders to ensure effective treatment and testing for drug offenders, yet the Tories said these measures were unnecessary.

"Their public service cuts guarantee can only mean that thousands of treatment places for drug-addicted offenders would have to be cut."

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