Home Office Statement on the Police Foundation Report

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The Independent Online

"The Government has a clear and consistent view about the damage which drugs can cause to individuals, their families and the wider community, the link between drugs and crime - and the corresponding need to maintain firm controls.

"The Government has a clear and consistent view about the damage which drugs can cause to individuals, their families and the wider community, the link between drugs and crime - and the corresponding need to maintain firm controls.

"We have therefore put in place a ten year national drugs strategy to reduce the use and availability of illegal drugs.

"We have developed a coherent programme of measures to deal with these issues, including new Drug Treatment and Testing Orders, minimum sentences for repeat drug dealers, and more investment in effective treatment and education.

"The committee set up by the independent Police Foundation has produced a thorough report with a large number of recommendations. We shall give it careful attention.

"Although the government does not support the Inquiry's recommendations on the reclassification of cannabis, cannabinols, ecstasy or LSD, there are many other recommendations which we consider are worth exploring in more detail. These include the suggestion of a new offence of dealing, greater controls on private prescription of class A drugs and the idea of attaching conditions to cautions.

"Ministers and the UK Anti-Drugs Co-Ordinator Keith Hellawell will also be discussing with the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and the Sentencing Advisory Panel how sentencing and cautioning practice for drug offences could be made more consistent. Other recommendations will be directed particularly at local agencies, and we look forward to hearing their responses.

"The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs looked at the issue of ecstasy's classification in 1996, and recommended that the present classification was appropriate. A summary of their 1996 decision is attached.

"The Advisory Council is a statutory body of independent experts and is able by law and of its own volition to review the classification of drugs from time to time and to make recommendations to the Secretary of State. Members of the Advisory Council will, we are sure, give the report the attention it deserves.

"We are not however persuaded that the classification or overall legal framework for LSD, ecstasy or cannabis should be changed.

"In practice, as the Report acknowledges, "almost no one is given an immediate custodial sentence solely for the possession of cannabis unless there is evidence of persistent flouting of the law" (p.106 para 34).

"Custody acts as an important backstop to ensure that defendants appear in court for this range of offences and as a way of helping to enforce other penalties such as fines or community sentences. Police powers of arrest for drugs possession, which neither we nor they wish to see abolished, are also dependent on these offences being imprisonable. Where imprisonment is imposed, the courts in each case has thought it justified. In these circumstances it would be wrong for the court to be denied use of that which they - and the appeal courts - regard as proportionate punishment.

"In coming to this view, we have taken careful account in particular of the views of Denis O'Connor, now Chief Constable of Surrey, a member of the Inquiry and senior police officer with years of experience of policing inner city London and of strengthening community/police relations following the MacPherson Report.

"The report points to the inconsistent application of the law on possession of cannabis and draws attention to different arrangements in Scotland. Sentencing and cautioning practice across all offences must be clear and consistent. Ministers and the UK Anti-Drugs Co-ordinator have already had these issues under review.

"It is important that police cautioning is consistently applied and this should be reflected in the guidance which organisations like ACPO produce. The government has also created an independent Sentencing Advisory Panel to advise the Court of Appeal on the production of sentencing guidelines across the whole range of offences.

"The Government along with ACPO and the Sentencing Advisory Panel will look at the recommendations of this report. For juveniles, the law has already been changed as the Report recommends, to place cautioning into a statutory framework (as reprimands and final warnings under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998).

"Many controlled drugs, including Class A drugs like cocaine and heroin are prescribed in refined compound form as pharmaceutical products. We have granted licences to allow proper research to be undertaken into the possible medical use of cannabis.

"Our decisions have to be led by science. We have also taken note of the conclusions of the British Medical Association quoted in the Report that "cannabis in its plant form was unsuitable for medical use" (p 112, para 62). We wish to see this research brought to a satisfactory conclusion as soon as possible."

SUMMARY OF ADVISORY COUNCIL ON THE MISUSE OF DRUGS' 1996 DECISION ON ECSTASY

The Council takes the view that the unpredictability of the effects of taking ecstasy - MDMA - including the possibility of death, means that there is cause for serious concern about the risks involved.

The Council advises that, in contrast to the desired effects of the drug, there have also been regular reports of serious short-term effects. First-ever epileptic fits, panic attacks, paranoid states and confusional episodes are well known and often seen in some Accident and Emergency Departments. These short-term disorders are potentially serious, although they are usually amenable to treatment.

The Council reports that long-term effects which have been observed include permanent visual changes, depression and panic attacks. Some individuals will be at risk of developing psychotic illness.

Post mortems on some individuals who have died in circumstances associated with the drug have suggested direct damage to the liver and heart. The deaths which have occurred have been unpredictable and sporadic and seen usually to have been brought on either by hypothermia or overheating and the complications which follow or, very rarely, through excessive water consumption which has led to acute water intoxication.

The Council advises that other similar drugs such as MDA or MDEA may well carry similar or greater risks. Misuse of ecstasy in combination with other drugs or alcohol will have a tendency to increase the risks. The risks of dehydration and overheating are likely to be exaggerated by high ambient temperatures and crowding.

The Council advises that ecstasy tablets seized in this country have not contained other harmful substances. The harmful effects are as a result of MDMA itself.

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