Senior police officers clashed sharply with the home secretary, David
Blunkett, today when they called for a radical shift on drug policy.

Addressing a Commons home affairs select committee, they publicly advocated
that ecstasy should be downgraded to a class B drug and backed the creation
of "shooting galleries" where addicts could legally inject heroin.

Metropolitan Police commander Brian Paddick, who has overseen the six-month
experiment in Brixton, south London, where cannabis users are being let off
with a caution, said arresting people for possession of ecstasy was a
"waste of valuable police resources" and that attention should be directed
at more harmful drugs.

Mr Blunkett made clear, however, when he announced his intention to
downgrade cannabis to a class C drug, that he was not prepared to shift
ground on ecstasy.

Chief police officers would support ecstasy being downgraded from a class A
drug to class B, if medical and scientific evidence recommended it, the
Metropolitan police deputy assistant commissioner, Andy Hayman, told the
committee.

"There seems to be medical and scientific evidence that puts it alongside
other amphetamines," he said.

Such a move could "make a stronger statement" about the dangers of class A
drugs, Mr Hayman told MPs, who are examining the government's existing drug
laws.

The reclassification would take the dance culture drug out of the same
group as heroin and crack cocaine, placing it instead alongside
barbiturates and amphetamines.

Committee chairman Chris Mullin raised the idea of so-called "shooting
galleries" based on a German system, which offers addicts clean needles and
health advice, and ensures that contaminated needles were not left in the
street.

He defined the facilities as "licensed premises where heroin can be taken
without fear of arrest".

Mr Hayman, also chairman of the Association of Chief Police Officers drugs
committee, confirmed: "If the medical authorities say it is worthwhile and
they can be controlled in a way that people are happy with, then clearly
from ACPO's perspective they would support it, because it would reduce the
tensions in the community and the erosion of the community."

He agreed it would involve police "turning a blind eye" to the use of class
A drugs, but drew a comparison with Amsterdam's safe areas for
prostitution, which seemed to have been a success.

Chief superintendent Kevin Morris, president of the Superintendents'
Association, said he would also support "shooting galleries" if they
operated under "carefully controlled conditions".

He also called for a proper debate on decriminalisation of cannabis.

Danny Kushlick, director of drug reform group Transform, commented: "Today
signals the end of prohibition in the UK.

"The further calls for decriminalisation and legalisation of cannabis from
police representatives show that the will exists for operational change.

"What is glaring now is the lack of political courage in government to
admit that prohibition has failed."


Newshawk: puff_tuff
Pubdate: Tue, 20 Nov 2001
Source: Guardian, The (UK)
Copyright: 2001 Guardian Newspapers Limited
Contact: letters@guardian.co.uk
Website: http://www.guardian.co.uk/guardian/
Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/175