Britain’s drug laws are set for radical changes later this year with a committee of MPs set to approve a package of measures including downgrading the perceived seriousness of the drug, reports today’s Guardian newspaper. Reform of Britain’s stringent drug controls has long been resisted by the more conservative members of the Britain’s ruling parties - despite repeated calls for legalization of ‘softer’ drugs. However, last October, Home Secretary David Blunkett announced that he sought to downgrade cannabis from a class B to a class C drug – measures that reduce the seriousness of being found either in possession, or in readiness to supply the substance – although stop short of full legalization of the drug. The Home Secretary claims that such a reclassification of cannabis would enable the police to "concentrate their resources" on more serious class 'A' drugs including cocaine and heroin. Further measures, such as possible Health Service provision of cannabis derivatives for medical use, were also proposed by the Home Secretary. These proposals have now been examined by a Select Committee of MPs, and, according to the Guardian, the committee will approve the proposed measures in next week’s session, whilst also calling for improved treatment for those addicted to ‘hard’ drugs.
Supporters of the government’s proposals are quick to point out the link between crime and drug addiction, with British studies estimating that 90% of those committed of drugs crimes re-offend. It has also been claimed that concentrating money on drug-addiction rather than drug prevention is economically beneficial - for every $1 spent in the UK on drug-addiction $3 is saved in terms of reduced crime. Further support for reform comes from the medical community, with a new report claiming that the current classification of cannabis alongside substances like amphetamines was “disproportionate” to their harmfulness. Nevertheless, the government’s proposals are being seen by some as a step in the wrong direction. Former Home Secretary, Anne Widdecombe, claims that the new controls could become a “Dealer’s Charter”, while others, such as the “Mothers against Drugs” organization, believe that the government’s shift away from their previously belligerent rhetoric on drugs “makes a mockery of everything that they have said”. Other countries will also be looking to the success of the British proposals, as well as the long-established Dutch laws on this subject. Those seeking relaxation of drug regulations are quick to point to the Netherlands, where cannabis has been legalized for over 20 years, yet sees 75% fewer addicts than the UK. Russian observers will also be interested in the success of the new controls, with the country currently exercising a zero tolerance policy towards those found in possession of illegal substances. One body against any changes to the current laws is “The Russian People’s Server against Drugs”, which dismisses many of the arguments for relaxed drug-controls - denying, for example, that there exists any link between crime and drugs. Others, however, are quick to point out the futility of sending those with cannabis convictions to Russian prisons. In 1995, 95 members of the Russian Parliament (State Duma) signed-up to a memorandum which doubted the wisdom of sending those convicted on cannabis charges to a place where they would become “bitter and resentful against society” and where they would “discover other drugs - such a heroin”.
However the official policy of the Russian State Duma remains decidedly hard-line. Member of the Russian Parliament and spokesman of the Committee for Sport and Preservation of Health, Vladimir Usanov, in interview with “PRAVDA.Ru”, declared that the committee was “firmly against” any loosening of the drugs laws in Russia. “The problem is that we have no boundaries between hard and soft drugs – and a person can easily go from using marijuana to, say, heroin”, – said the Deputy. Mr. Usanov was also quick to state that a “direct, concrete, link” exists between crime and drug-taking, with an addict, ‘high’, and unable to control himself, inevitably obtaining the money for his next dose through illegal means.
Tom Wishart PRAVDA.Ru