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Plans to toughen drugs law 'only sow confusion'

Stewart Tendler and Richard Ford, The Times, 9th June 2006

HOME OFFICE plans to toughen the law on drug possession were attacked yesterday as a “shambles” by opposition politicans.

Conservatives and Liberal Democrats were in broad agreement with proposals to lower the quantities of drugs a person can carry before the charge of possession is upgraded to possession with intent to supply, which carries a higher penalty.

John Reid, the Home Secretary, has proposed a maximum of 2g of heroin or cocaine and 5g of cannabis.

Last year Charles Clarke, his predecessor, suggested 7g of hard drugs — enough for ten or more street doses — and enough cannabis to roll 250 strong joints or 500 light ones.

Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, was among critics of the more liberal proposals, which he said were a licence for dealers.

Now there is concern that the levels may be too low. But yesterday Andy Hayman, the national spokesman for senior officers over drug legislation, said it was very important for officers on the streets to be able to make a “clear determination” between dealing and simple possession and “the proposed reduction would help that”.

Jan Berry, chairman of the Police Federation, which represents junior ranks, said too much tinkering with the legislation made the situation more confusing. She said: “The constant changes only add to public confusion. We have repeatedly said you do not need to change classification to change the way drug issues are policed. It’s important that police officers have discretion to take account of all individual circumstances.”

Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said the shift in policy showed that the Government was in a state of “total panic and chaos”.

He said: “Britain has younger and younger heroin addicts . . . half of children under 16 have tried illegal drugs. Labour’s flip-flopping on drugs is simply not an adequate response. The Government’s policy is a complete shambles.”

David Davis, the Conservative Shadow Home Secretary, said: “This is a move in a sensible direction, but continuous changes by the Government have only added to the confusion over this vital area of policy. It should never be forgotten that a significant number of soft-drug users go on to become hard-drug addicts.”

One chief constable, who thought the Clarke plans would have made it difficult to mount prosecutions for dealing because of the very high threshold, said that many senior officers would be happy with the new plan.

Rick Naylor, the president of the Superintendents’ Association, said there were problems with dealers who kept a small amount on their person so that they could argue it was just for personal use. They also had a cache near by which they used to top up their supplies.

In Belgium the limit for hard drugs is 3g, in the Netherlands 5g and in Spain 1.5g-3g. In Germany the limit is 1g-2g and 6g-30g for cannabis, depending on local laws.

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