THREE people were arrested for drugs offences at Scotland's first cannabis
cafe, police said last night.

The arrest of the two men and a woman for possession of cannabis at the
Purple Haze Cafe coincided with the reclassification of the drug, from
class B to class C, which came into force yesterday. It is understood that
Paul Stewart, the owner of the cafe in Leith, Edinburgh, was one of the
three.

A Lothian and Borders Police spokesman said: "Three people have been
arrested and charged with possession of drugs under the Misuse of Drugs
Act.

Two people were seen using drugs within the premises."

The spokesman said the men, aged 43 and 37, and the 35-year-old woman
would be made the subject of a report to the procurator fiscal.

He added that officers had been maintaining a presence outside the cafe
and had warned customers they could be arrested if seen with any illegal
substances.

The cannabis cafe launched as a private members' club yesterday afternoon.
The initiative means customers will be able to come in off the streets and
use the soft drug.

Backed by the Scottish Cannabis Coffeeshop Movement (SCCM), the plan aims
to highlight what campaigners cite as a confusing legal situation
surrounding the possession and use of the drug.

Yesterday's high-profile launch was attended by the SSP MSPs Tommy
Sheridan and Rosemary Byrne, who came to show "solidarity" with those who
choose to use cannabis.

But police warned that despite the downgrading, the drug remained illegal
and the possession of cannabis was still an offence.

Speaking yesterday, Mr Stewart, 37, said members would have to bring their
own cannabis to the cafe because the drug would not be on sale.

He added the cafe would be tobacco free, but anyone wishing to take
cannabis would be able to use a vaporiser machine, which eliminates 99 per
cent of the drugs carcinogenic substances.

Mr Stewart said he wanted to highlight the discrepancy between Scotland
and the rest of the UK over how the reclassification was implemented,
adding that he would have to warn all his customers that they risked being
arrested.

"In the rest of the UK the presumption of arrest has been taken away, but
that presumption still remains in Scotland," he said. "It is a plain fact
that 800,000 people use cannabis in Scotland and we feel that we are being
socially excluded from taking part in an activity we believe is socially
acceptable.

"We are looking for the whole of Scotland to get behind us and we want the
Executive to be supporting us on this one."

A statement issued by police last night read: "The change in class only
impacts on the penalties available to the courts and does not in any way
alter police procedures.

"Where evidence of an offence exists, offenders will continue to be
charged and reported to the procurator fiscal."

Last night, an SSP spokesman said police should not be "wasting their
time" prosecuting cannabis users. "We have to stop criminalising people
for what after all is a victimless crime," he said.

The opening of the cafe followed a declaration in the Scottish Parliament
by Jack McConnell, that the downgrading of cannabis would have little
effect on how police deal with users and dealers.

At First Minister's Questions, Mr McConnell attacked the SSP's "shameful"
drugs policy, condemning "those who intend to interpret the law for their
own ends".

He told MSPs: "I want to make clear today that reclassification is not the
same as decriminalisation. The use and sale of cannabis both remain
illegal in Scotland.

"I do not anticipate that cannabis reclassification will have any
significant implications for policing in Scotland."

This was, he added, "partly because police time and resources in Scotland
are already concentrating on those most serious drugs".

Annabel Goldie, the Tories' justice spokeswoman, said the government's
mixed messages had given a green light to those who think that they are
above the law.


Author: William Lyons
Source: Scotsman
Contact: Letters_ts@scotsman.com
Website: http://www.scotsman.com/
Pubdate: Friday, January 30, 2004