Examination of Witness (Questions 1220
TUESDAY 12 FEBRUARY 2002
1220. It was put to us in the context of some
young person buying, say, half a dozen ecstasy tablets and sharing
them out amongst his or her mates perhaps at cost price, and that
they then are dealers. That is the argument that takes placewhether
they are dealers or whether they are in possession. You end up
criminalising a lot of people who actually are not dealers really,
in the sense that most of us would understand it, but are recreational
(Mr Ainsworth) I think that kind of market
exists for all the drugs we are dealing withthat kind of
small scale dealing by friends, acquaintances and the rest. Yes,
there is a line of judgment to be drawn as to where you want to
use the law. I think there needs to be discretion by the prosecuting
authorities as to when they seek to use possession with intent.
I do not think there is any easy way around it though. It is not
only would you find friends who are buying and selling on at cost,
but you would find quite systematically people putting stashes
in safe places and going out with just under the amount, and effectively
being immune from any action taken against them for trafficking.
1221. It could be that already happens at the
moment. It is just a subjective judgment about what constitutes
dealing. No doubt those who do deal keep a stash somewhere, and
they only get done for dealing if they are caught with the stash,
on the whole?
(Mr Ainsworth) You are absolutely right.
At the moment we have the potential of this third offence, this
middle offence, that can be brought. What we would effectively
be doing, we would be removing that potential, I think.
1222. If you define decriminalisation as no civil
or criminal penalties for the personal use, i.e. the legalisation
and possession; if you are saying the Government is against that,
how can you tolerate what is happening in Lambeth and Brixton
where that, as far as I am concerned, is the case?
(Mr Ainsworth) At least now we have defined
the situation, and what is being said is why do you not consider
legalisation of possession and not decriminalisation.
1223. Which is what I think is happening in parts
(Mr Ainsworth) I do not accept that that
is so. For a start off, you will be aware that this was a police
initiative from within the Metropolitan Police Authority. From
their point of view it was about redirecting resources and using
police resources effectively. We have not had the final evaluation
of that yet. Obviously that will be taken into account with any
policy change there may well be. The initial feedback I have had
on the experiment is that there is still a lot of effective action
being taken against possession of cannabis. As a matter of fact,
there are more confiscations of cannabis than there were prosecutions
for the offence. We must wait for the final analysis and evaluation
of what has gone on in Lambeth. It may well be that the police
have achieved what they wanted to achieve, and they are effectively
able to deprive people of cannabis where they are smoking it without
disproportionately wasting police time. Let us wait and see what
the evaluation is.
1224. Can I just take you back to where we came
in, and that is on this point about legalising and regulating
not all drugs but certain drugs. What about just the soft ones?
The argument has been put to us most strongly in relation to heroin;
where it is said that most of the deaths that arise from heroin
arise because the supply is adulterated; because there is a lot
of chaotic heroin use by people who are on the streets; and you
would get all these people into a more controlled environment
if you legalised it, regulated it, and explained the risks. One
of our witnesses, a medical man, said to us that providing it
didn't cause harm to others he could not see why people, once
they had had the risks explained to them, should not be permitted
to go to hell in their own handcart. What do you say to that?
(Mr Ainsworth) You know that the Home
Secretary has asked for an evaluation of the provision of heroin
on prescription to be looked at again. An expert group has looked
at that and there is going to be something put forward about that
situation. Heroin is a highly addictive substance, as you know.
There is no known top threshold for the amount people can take
to make themselves compliant with. I think that would be a recipe
for increasing the harm done to people quite substantially, and
effectively providing the ability for suppliers to go on and for
there to be less effective controls on the supply of heroin.
1225. The other argument is the collapse of a
fair part, though not all, of the criminal market.
(Mr Ainsworth) How would we do that,
because the supply would remain a criminal activity.
1226. Presumably it would not remain a criminal
(Mr Ainsworth) You are suggesting the
legalisation of heroin?
1227. I am putting to you the pure legalisation
argument. Making it available to chemists, supermarkets, or whatever,
the quality was controlled, the risks were explained clearly on
the side of the packet. Obviously there would have to be an age
limit as there is with cigarettes and other dangerous substances.
(Mr Ainsworth) You presuppose that the
impurities are the main cause of death with heroin.
1228. That has been suggested to us.
(Mr Ainsworth) There have been some quite
spectacular individual cases where supplies of heroin have led
to a number of deaths. Heroin itself is a highly dangerous substance,
massively addictive, and people take it, wind up becoming completely
dependent upon it and wind up taking it with other substances
as well and deaths are caused, in fairly large numbers, other
than through impurities. I do not believe we would have the ability,
without massive input from the law enforcement criminal justice
system, to be able to control the supply in the way you suggest
we might be able to. Warnings on the packets, available only through
particular suppliers. How would we keep it out of the hands of
children? How would we be able to evaluate the costs of potentially
a very large increase in the use of heroin that might flow?
1229. You focus your enforcement, presumably,
on doing that, just as you do with cigarettes.
(Mr Ainsworth) Do we do it successfully
1230. Up to a point. Do we do it at the moment
in terms of keeping it out of the hands of people under age successfully?
(Mr Ainsworth) I do not believe that
heroin is as freely available to young people as it would be in
the kind of regime you describe. I think it would be a lot more
available. That people would not be discouraged from using it;
but there would be a line which would be peddled that if it is
legal it must be okay. We would see a substantial increase in
the use of heroin and heroin addiction, and not only among addicts
but young people as well.
1231. The argument which has been put to us is
that we actually have seen a substantial increase in the use of
heroin over the 30 years in which the existing policy has been
(Mr Ainsworth) That certainly is not
true of the recent past. There is no evidence of a substantial
increase of heroin addiction in this country at the moment.
1232. Over what period of time?
(Mr Ainsworth) I am talking about over
the last ten years or so. The use of drugs is broadly stable.
Ecstasy use went up, and there is some evidence it has now tailed
off. LSD and amphetamine use has gone down. There is a rather
worrying increase in the use of cocaine. There is absolutely no
evidence of an increase in the use of heroin.
1233. The other argument which has been put to
us is that you would collapse a large part of the criminal market,
because you would be selling it at such a low price and, therefore,
people would not have to burgle in order to feed a habit?
(Mr Ainsworth) You are absolutely right.
If you were prepared to sell it at a low price to almost anybody
there would be no opportunity for a secondary market to grow around
the primary market. If you attempted to tax it, regulate the price,
or prevented it getting into the hands of people whose hands you
did not want it to get into then a secondary market would grow
up around the legal market, and we would have some of the same
problems of enforcement that we have now.
1234. Minister, to return to the topic which
has already been mentioned, namely, cannabis, is it intended,
so far as you know, for the Lambeth experiment or scheme to be
(Mr Ainsworth) There are a couple of
things going on with regard to cannabis. The Lambeth experiment
was not a government project, it was a Metropolitan Police Service
project. You know that the Home Secretary has told you at the
start of your inquiry, rather than halfway through, he was minded
to ask the Drug Advisory Council to consider the reclassification
of cannabis. We obviously, in taking a view on that, will want
to look at the outcome of your report, the outcome of the Lambeth
report and what the Drug Advisory Council themselves say. The
motives, as I have tried to say, were not simple and singular;
they were about trying to bring the law into line with that which
was being practised in some police authorities in any case, and
provide some consistency within police authorities; direct police
resources a little more towards class A drugs where the most damage
was being done; and get a more credible message to send out to
young people in order to get through to them about the damage
that drugs do.
1235. That seems a very sensible explanation
and, therefore, the inevitable question, if that is the situation
in the London Borough of Lambeth, why not in other places? After
all, it is strange, is it not, to have in effect one law (though
it is not law in the sense of any Act being passed) being applicable
in one particular area but not in another? People will inevitably
ask, "Why should we be apprehended if we wouldn't be in Lambeth?"
(Mr Ainsworth) If the Advisory Council
1236. Which you expect, do you not?
(Mr Ainsworth) I will be surprised if
they do not.
1237. So would all of us.
(Mr Ainsworth) I have admitted that before.
If they do that then the consequences of reclassification to C
will be that possession of small amounts would not be an arrestable
offence. Some of what is going on in terms of the police experiment
in Lambeth will become the law of the land.
1238. Did you welcome the initiative taken by
senior police officers in Lambeth, or did the Home Office take
the view that it was none of their business and leave it purely
and simply as a police operation?
(Mr Ainsworth) We did not provoke it,
but we did not condemn it either. We were happy to watch it, and
very interested in seeing the evaluation because, you are absolutely
right, there are, effectively, these post code lotteries with
regard to how the police deal with the possession of small amounts
1239. The Police Federation have expressed to
us some (let us put it as mildly as possible) reservations. Do
you know of any objections by officers on the beat in the London
Borough of Lambeth who say, in effect, this is the wrong policy
and have indicated?
(Mr Ainsworth) I have not met the officers
on the beat in Lambeth since the early days of the experiment.
It would be fair to say there were mixed views among those officers
when I did met them, but there was not hostility to it. There
was not general hostility to it. Their main worry is about the
drugs that we are worried aboutabout heroin and cocaine.
Their own concerns were that they were able to take effective
action and this would assist them in doing so, and not present
them with difficulties in doing so. That was right at the very
early days. I have not spoken to them since back in October.