Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1080 - 1099)



  1080. Looking at the bigger picture, do you think that is still practical? I am very struck, when you read the Police Federation's submission, it says, "The primary responsibility of the police is to use the law in order to combat the illegal drugs trade". The next sentence says, "Over the past thirty years or so, this trade has expanded into a multi-billion globalised criminal enterprise that, in spite of all efforts by police and other bodies, continues to grow at an alarming, if unquantifiable, rate". The law enforcement has not been successful.
  (Mr Broughton) I think that is plainly true. We are not reducing the number of people using drugs or the number of dealers on the streets.

  1081. And yet in your submission, you say that looking at some of the more radical options for alternatives are the voices of surrender and despair. What are committees like this meant to do if the policing is not working and we cannot reduce the use of drugs by policing? Why are the alternatives surrender and despair?
  (Mr Broughton) Well, would you take the same view with burglary or with street robbery or would you take the same view with speeding? Because the incidence of those offences is increasing, do you decide to decriminalise? Of course you do not. I think the job of all of us in this debate is to unravel the options that are being put and if one of the options is decriminalise, then I think all of us have to unravel what the practical implications of that are. Would it mean the wider use of those drugs? I think some of us think it would.

  1082. But the question we are just trying to pursue here is: can a sort of crack-down policy work? Can a tough policy from the police work? The evidence seems to be that it has not worked and I think you are saying that because of policing by consent, it cannot work because you simply cannot arrest, as Ann Widdecombe suggested, you cannot arrest people for first-time use of cannabis on a consent basis. That is the difference and why it is not working.
  (Mr Broughton) I can only repeat what I have said. Policing is about policing by consent. It is about working in partnership with local communities and where the personal use of cannabis was so prevalent in some areas, the policy that was arrived at in relation to policing and the Crown Prosecution Service was to arrest people, but caution them for personal use below certain weights. That was a controversial policy which I am saying is in operation and that is a controversial policy which is always under discussion. The moves which are being suggested now about reclassification, about other quite radical suggestions on decriminalisation of, say, ecstasy and other drugs is one where we want to know how that is going to operate, how that is going to work and how that might improve things. The police service, I think, has moved in relation to cannabis slightly. We are being asked to move much more dramatically and I think it is right for us to question what that means, what that means to the overall policy.


  1083. You asked Mr Cameron a moment ago whether he would take that view in relation to burglary and street robbery and various other things. Is not the difference between them that one harms the individual who is smoking dope or whatever, whereas the other affects someone else? Is that not the crucial distinction as to what you prioritise?
  (Mr Broughton) Drug use affects much more than the individual. It affects society, it affects the family, it affects the community and it affects crime because the relationship between crime and drugs is pretty clear to all of us.

Mr Cameron

  1084. But so does smoking cigarettes and so does drinking alcohol. Perhaps we can move on, Chairman.
  (Mr Broughton) Well, it is a good point, so what are we saying?

  1085. Nobody is saying that taking drugs is a good thing. We are all agreed that taking drugs is a bad thing and we want to reduce drug-taking. The question is how to do it and that is where, I think from the Federation's submission, one comes to the conclusion that tough policing has not worked and, from what you are saying, tough policing cannot work.
  (Mr Broughton) You could come to that conclusion. If you want to come to solutions, and it is interesting that we focus on cannabis, but on the whole drug issue I am very attracted, we are very attracted, for instance, to some of the things which are going on in Switzerland. On heroin, and I go back to the late 1960s and early 1970s in policing, GPs were prescribing heroin to addicts around about that time which was changed in 1971. The issue of a secure clinic where there could be no leakage of heroin on to the street market and addicts going through a system of being prescribed maybe some rehabilitation, maybe some treatment, maybe some counselling, maybe some encouragement, that is an area where I think we could take out addicted heroin addicts and attempt actually to deal with that in a more positive way. There are some solutions that we can offer.


  1086. Thank you, Mr Broughton. We are going to come to that, but we are going to stick to cannabis for the moment and other witnesses are bursting to get in.
  (Baroness Greenfield) I want to burst in with just a very quick clarification, which is that bearing in mind with cannabis, you are increasing the risk of road traffic accidents because of an impaired sensory motor co-ordination and that people do not realise that unlike with alcohol it does last in the body for several days, so you could have impairments which then do harm other people. Also, unlike with smoking, you have an increased risk of psychosis and psychotic episodes which may be harmful to the community at large and certainly would be taxing the National Health Service, so I do not think we can regard it as something where you are doing yourself harm and not society.

Mr Cameron

  1087. Perhaps I could move on to the question of the gateway, and this is a question really for Mr Raynes first of all. You say in your submission that it is nonsense to suggest that decriminalising cannabis might distance users from the pushers of harder drugs. Why do you say it is nonsense?
  (Mr Raynes) Because that is not how most drugs are dealt.

  1088. I happen to live in London off the Portobello Road and when I walk down the Portobello Road sometimes after a late night's voting at the House of Commons, I am offered every drug under the sun by the same dealer. I hasten to add I do not take supply of any of them, but is that not the way drugs can be dealt?
  (Mr Raynes) Perhaps you could give Mr Broughton his name!

  1089. Is that not the way drugs can be dealt?
  (Mr Raynes) They can be, but in fact most people get their drugs from friends. At the user level of cannabis and ecstasy and cocaine, most people get it from acquaintances and in fact that is why I oppose in my written submission the Police Foundation's suggestion about that sort of dealer.

  1090. So it is your view that taking cannabis within the illegal drugs bracket would not help at all in terms of gateway?
  (Mr Raynes) No. I think there is a continuum, you see. As I said earlier, I think tobacco is the first drug that we all smoke behind the bike sheds and I think kids are now moving. We really ought to be quite anxious about the use of alcohol by young people in Britain because it has changed in the last ten or 15 years and it has changed at the same time as cannabis has changed and young people are—and I use the words, "substance abuse"—they are poly-substance users and they use them all together and mixed up. On the dealing issue, most of them do not get it from the sort of dealer you are talking about, but they get it from friends and there is a gateway effect, a continuum. If you use cannabis, it is not causal that you will use heroin, it is not causal that you will use crack cocaine, but the evidence is there. A quarter of people who use cannabis use another drug.

  1091. But you do not think there is any evidence that because you are fishing in that black market and in order to buy cannabis, you had to go to an illegal source and you had to do an illegal thing, you are in the black market through which you also get these other drugs? You do not see any connection there?
  (Mr Raynes) It is not causal. There is a connection, but there is a connection with tobacco as well, you see. When people use tobacco for the first time, they are probably using it or buying it illegally. When they use alcohol for the first time, they are buying it and using it illegally, so there is a state of mind here that people use substances when they know that it is illegal for them to buy them.

  1092. Let me ask Mr Broughton. Is it the Police Federation's view that there would be no beneficial effect? Many witnesses have come to us and said, "If you took cannabis out of the black market, you may be able to separate to some extent people taking cannabis, who at the moment are going through the black market, who are then being offered other illegal drugs". Do the Police Federation have a view on that?
  (Mr Broughton) No, that is not what I am hearing, that is not what I have been told and that is not my understanding of the situation, that removing cannabis from the criminal element is actually going to improve the prevalence of the use of crack, ecstasy or other drugs. That is not what I am hearing.
  (Mr Raynes) Can I just add one other point, which is that the Committee might need to understand, and I think my ex-colleague Mr Byrne mentioned this, that about more than 20 per cent of the UK tobacco market is illegal and it is controlled by gangsters and in Italy the figure is 50 per cent and it is similar to that in Spain. So taking cannabis out, this is a ploy by the legalisers. This is a ploy, the argument has been put to you as a ploy and you should disregard it because it is not relevant. If you took cannabis out and legalised it, there would be gangsters in the cannabis game and trying to sell it. If you tried to restrict it to children below a certain age, there would be people selling it.

  1093. I have two questions, if I may, following on from that. One is from Mr Raynes' submission. You say in your submission, "At cannabis user-level, supply is typically by friends, largely or often, not for profit . . ." and then you look at the question about whether there should be a distinction between dealing to small groups and the full offence of dealing and you say there should not be a distinction. Is there a contradiction between those two points? Are you not going to be criminalising really very seriously someone who may just sell a little bit of cannabis to friends?
  (Mr Raynes) Well, they are criminals. I say that dealing in cannabis, cocaine and ecstasy typically at user level is not for profit amongst friends. That is from my knowledge of my job, but dealing they are, and I also say in my written submission, which you have missed, that that can be dealt with by the court in mitigation. If it is that sort of low-level dealing not for profit, we do not need to—

  1094. You do not want a legal distinction. Let's be absolutely clear. You do not want to see any legal distinction between a 19-year-old who sells a small amount of cannabis to a friend and a heroin dealer peddling heroin to kids? They are both the same sort of offence.
  (Mr Raynes) They are the same sort of offence, but the court will deal with it appropriately. The court already has the powers and I think the Police Foundation talked about dealing in class A being treated differently. Well, that is really a nonsense, is it not? I cannot understand the logic behind it.

  1095. You have answered my question. The last question I had was that I think a lot of your submissions mention this point that the cannabis smoked today is in some cases 30 times stronger than the cannabis that was smoked in the 1960s. Do any of you see any connection with the fact that cannabis is illegal and that fact that you have given? Do you think there could be? Witnesses have put it to us that when you have an illegal substance which is unregulated, the strength tends to go up and up and up and up because the dealer is pushing something even harder to the user and obviously the more bulky the drug is, the more chance there is of being caught, so actually there is an interest, if the drug is illegal, in making it stronger and stronger and stronger. Do any of you see that connection or do you think that cannabis has got stronger for some other reason?
  (Baroness Greenfield) Let me just ask you about that. If that was the case, in Holland, it would be weaker and I refer to Mrs Brett to ask if it is weaker in Holland.

  1096. Well, we are asking the questions.
  (Baroness Greenfield) But if it is the case in Holland, one would expect Mrs Brett would have an answer.
  (Mr Broughton) I just think it is more sophisticated manufacturing techniques. I think it is the way the market in cannabis has developed, become more efficient and become better at the way it is cultivated and I think that is a natural development, I am afraid.
  (Mrs Brett) It all comes from Holland. They decriminalised it there, but supply and everything else is still illegal, so they allow people to grow, I think it is, five plants of cannabis for their own use. Of course that opened the floodgates for cannabis factories to be set up, which they were, and they then delivered what is called "selective breeding" where they take the pollen from one plant which gives a huge amount of THC, which is the psychoactive ingredient, and cross it with another plant which has a huge amount of THC, so they go on selectively breeding them, generation after generation of plant, and they call it "netherweed" or "skunk". These are some of the names and its THC content in the 1960s was 0.5 per cent on average, whereas it averages now 5 per cent. If you get skunk or netherweed, and some of these kids do not know what they are buying, it can be anything from 9 to 27 per cent and if you extract the oil, hashish oil, from it, you are up to 60 per cent. This is a strong, hallucinogenic drug.


  1097. Is that not the case for regulation and control? Are you not making the case for legalising and regulating the trade so that people know what they are buying?
  (Mrs Brett) Well, it is very difficult, if not absolutely impossible, to know what strength a plant is without chemical analysis and plants do vary in strength, or if you take the drug from various bits of the plant, the THC content varies. It is a huge minefield.

  1098. But if you regulated the trade, that is what you would do, is it not?
  (Mrs Brett) Not necessarily.

  1099. You would only allow a certain quality to be sold and you would make sure there were warnings explaining on every packet and all the rest of it.
  (Mrs Brett) If you are going to test every crop of cannabis, you would have to test lots of lines.

  Chairman: But that is not what happens, is it? You check samples. You do not expect to catch everything, but you impose a standard by random-checking samples, do you not?

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