Why it's time to decriminalise cannabis

The detective's view

Share
For More than 20 years Detective Chief Inspector Ron Clarke was in the front line in what has become known as the war against drugs. When he retired last year, he was a senior member of the Greater Manchester Drugs Squad, one of the biggest in Britain.

Mr Clarke strongly believes that the first step towards reforming our approach to the developing drugs problem should be to decriminalise the use of cannabis. "You could save an absolute fortune in police time and money at a stroke, and that money could better spent on health awareness and education programmes," said Mr Clarke, who lives near Oldham in Lancashire.

It was his experience on city streets that led to Mr Clarke's change of attitude towards tackling the drug issue. "In the beginning, like everyone else, I was convinced that this was a law and order issue, and that we had the resources to enforce our will and the law," he said. "Towards the end of my service I saw that this was really a medicinal issue. I got tired of seeing otherwise innocent young kids from all walks of life getting criminal records for, in effect, doing nothing more than millions of other people in society were doing with alcohol."

Mr Clarke makes it clear that his personal loathing of drugs and the drug culture remains intact and, as the father of two daughters, he is well aware of parental anxiety surrounding the argument.

"The truth is that when people smoke cannabis or consume alcoholic drinks they are abusing their bodies in some way. I take the view that what I do with this carcass of mine is my own affair so long as I do not actually do anyone else any harm. If I have a drink with friends and act in a responsible way it ought not be a subject for the law to intervene in. And on that basis I do not see why thousands of people should be criminalised for taking a decision to achieve similar ends but via a different route."

Mr Clarke believes that within the police service there are many others who share his views. "I admit that I was in a minority, albeit a significant minority among senior officers, but there is a substantial groundswell of opinion among junior officers who believe that exacting criminal penalties for the simple possession of cannabis is wrong. It is, however, very difficult for serving officers to speak out on this issue, and consequently there is no debate."

The solution to the long-term question of how drugs are regulated in Western societies requires an international approach, he argues. "We have to tackle the problem in the Third World, where the bulk of the supply comes from. Over the years we have tried a variety of approaches regarding the producer nations, including a scorched earth policy. Unfortunately that only improved the quality of the crop the following year The pressure on the poor farmers in the Third World is intense. Given the personal choice of risking seeing your children die if you plant a coffee crop, or guaranteeing a good cash return for cannabis plants or opium poppies, it is easy to see how problems arise."

Mr Clarke advocates an open intervention policy whereby the developed economies agree to purchase fixed amounts, and in doing so stabilise prices and quality. "That which was surplus to requirements could be stockpiled in the way that grain and wine is. Gradually, we could subsidise Third World farmers into producing food crops once more, and both halves of the trading partnership would benefit."

The former police officer has shared his views on drug policy reform with the Minister without Portfolio, Peter Mandelson, and Labour Party research workers. "After speaking to a party official I got the impression that a Labour government in its second term would change the law. But in the meantime it would make very good sense to separate cannabis from the terms of the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act. We need to remove the criminality."

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
New rules mean individuals will no longer be allowed to register other people in their household  

A political voice that really needs to be heard

Rebecca Armstrong
If Miliband is PM, it is expected that Cameron will stand down as party leader quickly  

Election 2015: The Ed Miliband I worked with in Downing Street

Nick Rowley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living