Police At Odds Over Cannabis Arrests

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SCOTTISH police remained firm over their stance on cannabis last night
despite a top Scotland Yard officer saying it was "pointless" for officers
to arrest people in possession of small amounts of the drug.

Sir Ian Blair, deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said it was
"grossly inefficient" for his officers to spend hours processing those
caught with small quantities of the illegal substance, which neither the
Crown Prosecution Service nor courts were likely to prosecute.

In a letter to a national newspaper, which will infuriate opponents of the
governments decision to downgrade the drug, Sir Ian said: "During the 30
years of my police service, the policing of possession of small amounts of
cannabis has become increasingly pointless.

"It was grossly inefficient for officers to spend hours processing
individuals for the possession of cannabis in amounts about which neither
the courts nor, therefore, the CPS were prepared to take any action."

Sir Ian said the Metropolitan Police supported the reclassification of
cannabis, and dismissed accusations from opponents who said the new laws on
the drug were too muddled.

He wrote: "While the message to those who use the illegal drug is more
complicated, we believe that the new rules of engagement will become clear
quite quickly."

But last night Strathclyde's assistant chief constable Graham Pearson said
that it may well be that the strategy outlined by Sir Ian is appropriate for
London, but it wouldn't be appropriate for Scotland.

Mr Pearson said: "We are convinced that with our current approach to
cannabis we are protecting the community, and particularly the young people
within that community.

"It is a different culture, a difficult legal system, and there is a
different relationship between the police and the public here."

Sir Ian's comments come just a day after three people were arrested for
misuse of drugs at Scotland's first cannabis cafe.

Kevin Williamson, the drugs spokesman for the Scottish Socialist Party, who
is spearheading the Scottish Cannabis Coffee Shop Movement campaign,
insisted the cafe would stay open.

Mr Williamson said: "Sir Ian Blair is just expressing what I think most
police officers feel - it is completely pointless. I would now like to see a
Scottish police chief come out with a statement saying how equally pointless
it is up here."

Police entered the Purple Haze Cafe in Edinburgh shortly after 7pm on
Thursday and charged a man and a woman with alleged possession of cannabis.
Cafe owner Paul Stewart was charged with allowing the premises to be used
for drugs misuse.

Yesterday Mr Stewart, 37, said he has been overwhelmed with e-mails of
support from across the world. "We have had people in Australia joining up
who are never going to come, they just want to show their support," he said.
"But our argument is not with the police on this one, our problem is with
the law."

The downgrading of cannabis from Class B to C - the same as anti-depressants
and anabolic steroids - has been attacked for allowing young people to
believe the drug is now legal and safe.

Home Secretary David Blunkett's move to reclassify cannabis means possession
of the drug will not lead to arrest in most cases.

Ministers have always insisted the move is designed to free police to target
hard drugs like cocaine and heroin.

Home Office research indicates it is these hardcore addicts who are
responsible for 99 per cent of the 18.8 billion pounds a year which drug
abuse costs society.

Last week Conservative leader Michael Howard condemned the decision to relax
the law on cannabis as "absurd".

Pubdate: Sat, 31 Jan 2004
Source: Scotsman (UK)
Copyright: The Scotsman Publications Ltd 2004
Contact: Letters_ts@scotsman.com
Website: The Scotsman - Scottish News