Britain Divides Along Age, Political And Social Faultlines Over 'Softly,
Softly' Move, While Fears Grow Of Confusion With Tobacco And Alcohol

The majority of British voters disapprove of the home secretary David
Blunkett's decision to relax the penalties for possession of cannabis,
according to this month's Guardian/ICM opinion poll.

Some 53% of adult voters say they do not support the reclassification of
cannabis as a less harmful drug. Only 38% say they support the move.

But as ever when it comes to questions about drugs, the nation divides
strictly according to age.

A clear majority of the younger generation, those under 35, back the new
"softly, softly" approach to cannabis. Some 54% of those aged 18 to 24
approve of the change as do 55% of 25- to 34-year-olds.

But the older generation remains firmly opposed with 54% of the 35- to
64-year-olds disapproving of the change. Opposition is strongest among the
over 65s, 76% of whom say they do not like the new policy which will see
the police adopt a "seize and warn" policy towards those they find in
possession of small amounts of cannabis.

The ICM poll coincides with the modification of the Lambeth experiment in
south London under which cannabis users were cautioned but not arrested, to
free police officers to concentrate on class A drugs such as heroin and
crack cocaine.

The modified Lambeth experiment, which comes into force today, will see it
come into line with the policy announced by Mr Blunkett earlier this month.

Police officers will no longer routinely arrest those they find in
possession of cannabis but will instead adopt a "seize and warn" policy in
most cases. They will only use their power of arrest for cannabis
possession if there are "aggravating factors" such as the involvement of
children, public order implications or "flagrant disregard of the law" such
as smoking a joint in front of an officer.

It is expected that the Metropolitan police will adopt the modified Lambeth
policy across London this autumn in advance of parliamentary regulations
which will implement the change nationwide next July.

The details of the Guardian/ ICM poll show that attitudes towards cannabis
possession also vary sharply according to social class and voting
intention. Conservative voters are most hostile with 70% opposing the
change and only 26% backing it. Labour voters are split down the middle,
with 46% supporting Mr Blunkett and 45% against. There is a similar divide
among Liberal Democrat voters despite their party's official policy of
decriminalisation, with 46% against and 43% in favour.

Views about cannabis also vary with social class. Generally approval
ratings for the reform of the cannabis laws rises to 45% among the more
affluent and middle class voters. Among working class and poorer voters the
level of approval falls to 26% with 63% of social class DE voters - the
unskilled and unemployed - opposed to any decision to relax the penalties
for possessing cannabis.

Crime figures show more than 100,000 people were charged with possessing a
controlled drug in 2001-02. The overwhelming majority were for cannabis

The British crime survey recently found that 44% of people under 30 said
they had tried cannabis.

ICM interviewed a random sample of 1,002 voters aged over 18 by telephone
between July 26 and 28 2002. Interviews were conducted across the country
and the results have been weighted to the profile of all adults.

Pubdate: Wed, 31 Jul 2002
Source: Guardian, The (UK)
Copyright: 2002 Guardian Newspapers Limited
Author: Alan Travis