LONDON (Reuters) - The U.S. drugs chief has slammed Britain's controversial
"softly softly" approach to cannabis, saying a high-profile pilot programme
has only increased usage in drug-plagued areas.

Asa Hutchinson, director of the powerful U.S. Drug Enforcement
Administration, told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday that a flagship
south London pilot programme -- where police stopped arresting people for
cannabis possession -- had seen a jump in cannabis users and led children to
believe it was legal.

"Clearly, the evidence is that the pilot project in that area where they
only issued citations for marijuana use, rather than an arrest, is that it
increased usage," he said.

"Wherever you are dealing with harmful drugs, that is not the objective that
we want to have."

Hutchinson, in Europe to discuss international drug strategies and attend a
high-level crime conference in London, said police were dealing with the
cannabis problem from the standpoint of prioritising thin resources.

"But that is sending a very mixed message to young people. As I travelled
the neighbourhood, I asked about the young people and the impact on them and
the response that came back was that most of them think it is legal now.

"I have great concerns about the debate that may lead to a reduction of
enforcement activities on cannabis. If we are to effectively confront drugs
problems in our society, we cannot accept the myth that marijuana represents
no harm -- it does."


The "softly softly" approach to cannabis in south London was pioneered by
Metropolitan police commander Brian Paddick -- dubbed "Commander Crackpot"
by the media -- who was later transferred out of the area pending an
investigation that he allowed cannabis to be smoked in his home.

The programme has provoked widespread debate in Britain, which has one of
the highest levels of drugs use in Europe -- particularly among the young
with a third of teens admitting to regular use of marijuana.

A recent government survey in the U.S. showed about 18 percent of those aged
18-24 had used illegal drugs, falling to nine percent of those aged 12-17.

Critics blame the tolerant British approach for increasing numbers of young
children smoking the drug and for bringing them into contact with dealers.

But last month, a parliamentary committee report urged the government to
face reality and relax rules governing use of the drug enjoyed by around
five million people across the country.

Home Secretary David Blunkett has said he wants to downgrade cannabis to the
lowest risk Class C drug category, making possession of small amounts a
non-arrestable offence.

A two-year independent inquiry concluded in 2000 that police wasted too much
time trying to clamp down on soft drugs -- but meanwhile Britain tops the
European Union in drug-related deaths, mostly from heroin.


Hutchinson said the DEA's work had changed significantly since the attacks
of September 11, with more importance placed on the gathering and sharing of
intelligence internationally.

"There is a clear connection between drugs and terrorism. As long as you
have drug trafficking, there will always be a funding pool for terrorist
activity," he said.

The U.S.-led war on terrorism in Afghanistan and the replacement of the
Taliban by a new government had reduced the amount of heroin coming out of
the region by up to 30 percent this year but it would be an ongoing battle.

Hutchinson denied that the war on drugs could never be won, saying it was
"being won every day" and that drugs usage had dropped 50 percent in the
U.S. over the last 20 years.

"We have to demonstrate that we have had success and that we will continue
to have it...not give in to those who advocate giving up our anti-drug


Pubdate: Tue, 18 Jun 2002
Source: Reuters (Wire)
Copyright: 2002 Reuters Limited
By Sinead O'Hanlon
Bookmark: (Cannabis - United Kingdom)
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