Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 700 - 706)



  700. Do you realise and do others realise that if you move cannabis from class B to class C, you lower the maximum penalty for dealing from 12 years to five years? This means that on a guilty plea the court cannot impose more than about three and a half years, which means that the parole position for higher offences does not apply and in real terms the maximum that any person can serve who supplies any amount of cannabis by way of dealing is now down to 18 months if you move it into class C, as opposed to a hugely higher sentence prior to movement into class C. Same applies to ecstasy from class A to class B. Is that a problem?
  (Mr Trace) Yes, it is a problem and it is one of the two dilemmas I would be expecting the Home Office to be thrashing through now with ACPO. If you move cannabis to class C you have that problem. I would say in relation to that problem, that if you look at the sentences given so far, very few people actually get more than 18 months anyway for cannabis supply.

  701. I am talking about the big dealers, the big shippers.
  (Mr Trace) All I say is that it is relatively small numbers, but yes, it would have that impact. You may be in a situation where you would have a very major dealer whom you have caught for shipments of cannabis, whom you know is involved in a lot of other things as well, where the appropriate sentence would be a lot more than that. That is a dilemma they need to look at. The other dilemma they need to look at is obviously removing the arrestability for cannabis possession offences because quite often arresting somebody on a cannabis possession is a start of a much bigger investigation. It brings in some dilemmas for operational policing and I would hope that the Home Office are looking at that before they implement anything in the spring. On balance I would still go ahead with the initiative but absolutely, there is a dilemma.

David Winnick

  702. You said earlier that Britain has the highest use of drugs. If decriminalisation were to be put in place, do you think the danger is that not only here but in other countries the message would be that we have abandoned the fight over drugs?
  (Mr Trace) It is absolutely sure that that is how it would be portrayed. There is a danger, and it is to some extent true, that if you come to the conclusion and say all of our operations to reduce prevalence in this country have not reduced prevalence so we are going to deprioritise those actions, then you cannot dress that up any other way: we are giving up a certain set of actions because they have not worked. The presentational issues of that I shall leave for others to try to work their way through. Basically that would be portrayed in our press as giving up the fight against drugs. In my view it is not giving up the fight at all, because the more important fight is reducing the harm.

  703. Against which of course it could be argued that despite the very strong controls on drugs , and only very recently in the last few months has there been any change regarding cannabis which even now the Home Office denies is any decriminalisation of that drug, despite all that we have the highest rate of all countries in Europe. So the argument could run the other way. So the answer to the first question I put to you this morning seems to be that the drug policy does not seem to be working.

  (Mr Trace) I should say that is my position now with the level of experience and knowledge I have at the moment. Despite the well-intentioned efforts to reduce prevalence in this country significantly, we have not managed to. You can respond to that in two ways. You can either say we have to work a lot harder and do more of it, or you can say there are more important things for us to be prioritising resources to. I would also link here to a European Monitoring Centre report. We launched the annual report in Brussels last month and one of the pieces of work looked at the 15 Member States' attitude to drug use in general. Did they have harsh policies? Did they implement them harshly? We could find no link across 15 Member States between the robustness of their policies and the level of prevalence. There are some countries with high prevalence, harsh policies, some countries with low prevalence, harsh policies, other countries with liberal policies and low prevalence. There is no link, there is no conceivable link.

  David Winnick: Very interesting indeed. Thank you.


  704. Where did Sweden come in that?
  (Mr Trace) Low prevalence, harsh policies. The Swedish experience would lead you towards—and this is the attitude of most Swedish analysts—saying if you are really harsh and repressive and really push very hard in your prevention work and your enforcement, you can keep prevalence low. That is their view.

David Winnick

  705. Holland?
  (Mr Trace) Holland's experience is the longest experience of a liberal approach, where they have openly said that they would not enforce cannabis possession laws now for some 25-26 years. Their prevalence is significant but not the highest; similar to France, similar to Spain, Italy.

  706. But lower than Britain's.
  (Mr Trace) Yes.

  Chairman: Thank you very much for coming. It has been very helpful.

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