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

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour's Jeremy Corbyn arrives to take part in a Labour party leadership final debate, at the Sage in Gateshead, England, Thursday, Sept. 3  

Jeremy Corbyn is here to stay and the Labour Party is never going to look the same again

Andrew Grice
Serena Williams  

As Stella Creasy and Serena Williams know, a woman's achievements are still judged on appearance

Holly Baxter
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones