Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 380 - 399)



  Chairman: Gentlemen, we  380. Is it your experience that most hard drug users started on cannabis?
  (Mr Paddick) I do not have sufficient experience. It has been a long time since I arrested people for drugs. The people who arrest people for drugs for me now, my officers, do not go into the history of how people started on drugs, that would not be part of the information that is taken. It would probably be the information that is taken by the drugs workers who now work within the custody suites. I would not like to say whether cannabis is a gateway drug. Personally, just from my reading and my understanding without any medical background at all, my lay commonsense view of things is there are some people who have addictive personalities. If there were not any drugs around they would become alcoholics. Some people can have a drink and leave the rest in the bottle, some people cannot, they have to drink the whole bottle. Some people can pick up cannabis and smoke cannabis and never go on to anything else, other people cannot help themselves and go on to other things.

  381. I was just trying to establish whether there is a link between hard drugs and cannabis. I am not suggesting that everybody who takes cannabis goes on to hard drugs but is there a link between hard drug users having starting on cannabis?
  (Mr Paddick) I do not have any evidence to say that is the case.

  382. It is quite pivotal to our investigation.
  (Mr Paddick) Yes.

  383. Mr Wilkinson, could I ask you that question?
  (Mr Wilkinson) Again, it is not something that I particularly investigated. Again, common sense says the person who moves on to heroin will already have had cannabis, tobacco, alcohol and most of the other things which are going around. I do not think there is any cause and effect relationship between cannabis and heroin. In as far as there is, and this is only occasional, it might be that the person who is supplying cannabis, of course, on the illegal market is also a person who is prepared to sell anything else. So on that basis the sort of arrangement that they have in Holland—not that I am a supporter of that—tends to separate cannabis from the supply of harder drugs and, therefore, reduces that possibility.

  384. Mr Ogden?
  (Mr Ogden) Yes, my Drug Action Team, and me personally, strongly believe that cannabis is a gateway for many people into class A substances. I review in great detail with members of the professional advisory group's introduction team every drug related fatality. We have reviewed about 150 deaths over the last four years, some of them actually occurred before the four year period. 98 per cent of those people who died from a heroin overdose actually were using cannabis. I must say also alcohol as well but cannabis before they moved on to other substances. I am not an academic but I think that is a significant piece of information. More work needs to be done with it but we believe it is a gateway drug, not for everybody but for many people.

  385. What would your view of legalising cannabis be?
  (Mr Ogden) I and the Drug Action Team, who I represent here today, strongly oppose it. We had a long discussion about this two weeks ago before I came down here and we have that view. Like Commander Paddick we have to police an area, deal with the Drug Action Team issues in the area according to the local issues in that area. Head teachers in schools and education people are telling me that they are seeing young men and young women, particularly young men, 13, 14 and 15, who are performing extremely well academically, who are performing very well in sport, dropping out and going into drift form in those formative years. There are other reasons for that but cannabis is a feature of that. As we speak to young people, because we have made this a priority for drug education in the schools in my area, we get this information from them. Any attempt to take cannabis out of class B into class C we strongly believe will undermine the very dynamic drug education programmes which are now under way.

  386. Would you say that more resources should be put into prevention and enforcement as opposed to treatment?
  (Mr Ogden) I think we have a lot of resources into prevention now and that is what Drug Action Teams and the National Drugs Strategy is all about, making sure that it is properly focussed and sharply focussed. Prevention is not just about drug education, prevention is about helping young people to achieve their potential. It is about sport, it is about academic life, it is about culture, it is about many things. If you pull that together you can prevent people drifting into drug misuse. I do not think they need to put more into prevention, there is a lot more going into it now. There is a lot more going into treatment now. We have to get the balance of education, enforcement and treatment absolutely right. It is a three pronged attack and I think we are getting there.

Mr Cameron

  387. I just wanted to ask Mr Paddick how he felt about the current situation in Lambeth where possession of a small amount of cannabis, as you have said, very clearly you are not being arrested for but the supply is still in criminal hands. Do you find that a satisfactory half way house or would you personally or professionally, you could answer both ways if you like, like to go a bit further?
  (Mr Paddick) The difficulty, even around the reclassification of cannabis, is the inadvertent signals that it might send where people misinterpret it as either being decriminalised or the fact that people think it is harmless, and clearly cannabis is not harmless at all. You get into very difficult territory if you start saying "Well, it is okay also to supply" because the people who supply cannabis tend to supply all sorts of other drugs as well, the hard drugs. It is very difficult then to make a distinction between those dealers you deal with and those that you do not. Yes, it does appear to be a very uncomfortable position to be in where possession of small amounts is dealt with by means of a warning where the drugs are confiscated, by no means are we turning a blind eye to it but we are arresting and prosecuting and charging people who have enough to supply other people with. But I think you are then into a different order of magnitude of the problem. Allowing police officers to use their discretion in only warning people for possession of small amounts is one thing, saying that you are not going to deal with people who supply drugs is a completely different issue.

David Winnick

  388. The argument, Mr Paddick, really is this. To the extent that cannabis use has been relaxed in Lambeth, and that is indeed the situation, arising from the previous question, surely in so far as supply is in the hands of criminals, is that not, in fact, increasing the scope for those criminals to supply cannabis, leaving aside any other drug, let us concentrate for the moment on cannabis, in the knowledge, for those who buy small amounts for their own use, the fact is that there is no harm in getting those drugs from such criminals?
  (Mr Paddick) I would argue that the enforcement against cannabis has not been relaxed and, indeed, I have given figures that would tend to indicate that the police are enforcing more the law against cannabis than they were before the pilot started. A lot of it is probably because officers who did not want to tie themselves up for hours in the police station dealing with paper work, who used to turn a blind eye to it, are now actually acting and confiscating the drug. I would not say that the law, in terms of enforcement on the ground, has been relaxed.

  389. Those who have a small amount of cannabis in their possession in your area are not going to find themselves in court?
  (Mr Paddick) That is correct.

  390. In effect, whichever way you want to explain the situation, to the layman's eye it must seem de facto at least it has been decriminalised to the extent it is only a small possession of cannabis for their own use. You would not really disagree with that, would you?
  (Mr Paddick) No, I would not.

  391. If someone wishes to obtain a small amount of cannabis the only source of supply would be criminal, would it?
  (Mr Paddick) Indeed.

  392. They cannot get it anywhere else?
  (Mr Paddick) Indeed, that is correct.

  393. Therefore from the criminal's point of view—I do not want to put words into your mouth—the extent that the criminal source is the only supply, clearly if more people decide as a result of what is happening in your area they want to use a small amount of cannabis that is more scope for the criminal?
  (Mr Paddick) Yes. Where I would disagree with you is that the possession of a small amount of cannabis, whilst it is de facto, as you say or people might put the interpretation on it, that it has been in effect decriminalised, in practice that is not the case. It is still a criminal offence and there may still be circumstances where people find themselves in the police station, and maybe even going to court, if they have got a large amount or they have got a small amount in several different packets, then we would probably charge them with straight possession even though there is not sufficient to prove to the standard that the Crown Prosecution Service would require of possession with intent to supply. There is not a decriminalised possession of small amount versus criminal supply, both are criminal, both are dealt with by the police as criminal in Lambeth. But, yes, you could say that some dealers might think that they could operate more effectively in Lambeth because people might think that the possession was lawful, in fact it is not, than outside of Lambeth. To be quite honest with you, cannabis is so widely available, including in places which you would be quite surprised at where you could get hold of it, including some places not very far from here, that I do not really think it is making too much of a difference in Lambeth in terms of supply.

  394. Why not put it all on a legitimate basis, Mr Paddick? I understand, of course, the number of people who go from cannabis to hard drugs and the rest of it but if you accept—perhaps you do not but if you do—that quite a significant minority of otherwise law abiding people use cannabis in small amounts, why not accept the fact that they should be able to get their source of supply on a legitimate basis and undermine criminality? Would that not make sense or is that too simplistic a line of what should happen?
  (Mr Paddick) As a senior police officer I am instructed to say that legalisation is a matter for politicians and not for police officers.

  395. You are absolutely right.
  (Mr Paddick) As an individual then I agree with you. I think it provides a clear argument for clear education around the real health problems associated with cannabis. A programme of regulation, a programme of licensing would appear to be, if we are starting with a blank piece of paper, where we would go to in the way that we have with tobacco and alcohol. That is not the situation that we are in and politicians have to be very careful around the messages that are sent around going from a situation where cannabis is illegal, and even is classified as a particular class, and then reclassifying it or legalising it and the message that sends to people in terms of what is the accepted picture of its potential damage to individuals.

  David Winnick: That is a very forthright and honest answer, Mr Paddick. It is a very good answer which we will keep very much, I am sure, in our minds when we come to our conclusions.

Bridget Prentice

  396. Commander Paddick, you say between four and eight hours of an officer's time a day is saved as a result of this pilot. I would be careful, if the Commissioner hears that you may not get the resources if you have all this spare time available. What are those officers doing? Are they the same officers who will now deal with harder drugs? You have obviously got very clear views on cannabis, do you have similar forthright views on ecstasy, for example?
  (Mr Paddick) Yes. I have to preface all my answers by saying that Andy Hayman, who spoke to you earlier, is the spokesperson for the Association of Chief Police Officers, and I am a member of the Association of Chief Police Officers.


  397. Yes. What we have discovered during the course of this inquiry so far is a lot of police officers hold quite different views. We need to smoke out the views of those who are in the front line, as it were, and we would be obliged for help.
  (Mr Paddick) If you insist.

Bridget Prentice

  398. We understand the subtlety of what you are saying.
  (Mr Paddick) My view is that there are a whole range of people who buy drugs, not just cannabis, but even cocaine and ecstasy, who buy those drugs with money that they have earned legitimately. They use a small amount of these drugs, a lot of them just at weekends. It has no adverse effect on the rest of the people they are with either in terms of the people that they socialise with or the wider community. They go back to work on Monday morning and are unaffected for the rest of the week. In terms of my prioritisation of what in a sense I deal with as an operational police officer, then they are low down on my priority list. Those people who are addicted to particularly crack cocaine and heroin, who cannot do anything other than think about where their next fix is coming from and who go out and commit terrible crimes against other people in my community in order to buy those drugs, they are my priority, not necessarily to lock them up and throw away the key but certainly to take them off the street and get them into treatment would be, I think, the most effective solution. Also those drug suppliers who encourage those people who have what I have referred to before as addictive personalities, who target those individuals and sell drugs to them in order to get them hooked in order to get their own income stream going, they are the people that I need to target, they are the people that I need to concentrate my scarce resources on.

  399. Are they the same officers?
  (Mr Paddick) It would be the same officers. We have a particularly effective and very heroic town centre patrol who are officers in uniform who patrol Brixton town centre. They spend most of their time playing cat and mouse with these dealers, or at least the dealers' operatives who work on the streets of Brixton, who are trying to sell and trying to get people hooked on to crack cocain and heroin. It is the same officers who before if they had come across a small amount of cannabis during one of these stop and search operations would have arrested that individual and spent the next four to six hours in the police station. Now they deal with it within an hour and then they are back out on the street and looking for, as they were before, they were always looking for hard drugs but sometimes they found cannabis, they are back out there and they are making life difficult for those class A drug dealers who are preying on the victims of this whole business who is the chaotic drug user.

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