Select Committee on Home Affairs Memoranda


Submitted by Richard Parry

  1.  I am a criminal defence lawyer, so my wish to see the legalisation of illegal drugs is adverse to my interests. Perhaps up to half my work is connected to the prohibition on certain drugs—which suggests to me that an equivalent of time must be spent on such cases by the police, the courts and the Probation Service. The enormous waste of time and taxpayers money is quite staggering and increases year on year. The so-called "war on drugs" if it continues will become a bottomless pit into which taxpayers money is thrown without any tangible result. Except the locking away of thousands of prisoners, the erosion of civil liberties, an increasing crime rate, and huge profits continuing to be made by criminal gangs and terrorist groups.

  2.  Assuming that the Government's drug policy is to decrease illegal drug use and its ill effects it is a massive failure. Young people in the UK love their drugs and are notorious in Europe for their drug use, especially cannabis and ecstasy (incidentally the safest of all). The harshest laws in Europe have had no deterrent effect whatsoever. The British are after all a freedom-loving race and do not like hypocrisy or being lied to, and that applies especially to young people who know from experience that cannabis and ecstasy are virtually harmless. They are also triggers for having great fun, just like alcohol, but do not lead to aggression or health problems. They are also not addictive and do not create knock on crimes such as theft, burglary and robbery associated with heroin and crack addicts. In my view they should be decriminalised or legalised immediately.

  3.  In my view the "war on drugs" is a civil war waged on our own sons and daughters. Let me tell you about some current cases to give you a flavour of where Government policy on drugs leads to at street level.

  4.  Case X: on a quiet afternoon in Islington a 19 year old youth is sitting in a barber's shop waiting for a haircut. Two uniformed officers walk slowly by and look through the window. The youth puts his hand in his pocket. The police enter and ask to search him. In a panic he runs out and is chased onto the estate where he lives, as the police call frantically for back up. Police vans screech onto the estate with sirens blaring. A crowd gathers and a woman is knocked over by a policeman and injured. The boy is caught and dragged over a fence, handcuffed and taken to the police station. A solicitor is called, he is interviewed, then released after several hours, bailed to return pending analysis of what was found in his pocket—two tiny pieces of cannabis. On charge he says he uses cannabis to help with his asthma. He appears at the Magistrates Court and is bailed pending committal to the Crown Court. He indicates a not guilty plea on legal advice. The defence costs so far are only in the hundreds of pounds, by the end of the case they may be in the thousands. And then there are the Prosecution costs, the costs of the forensic science service, the police, the court staff, the judge, the jurors. Ultimately thousands of pounds of taxpayers money will be spent to defend a boy who was doing nothing more than sitting in the barbers waiting to have his hair cut, but who ran because Government policy in the form of two over-eager policemen marked him out as a criminal. He has no convictions or cautions for drugs. The injured woman had to seek hospital treatment. And the local youth despise the police even more. I hope that by the time your inquiry is over that I shall be able to report a successful outcome to this case. But at what price?

  5.  Case Y: A young man who has attended a major English public school, just gaining 2 As and a B at A level, intending to go to University after a gap year. After the exams he went out celebrating and bought ten ecstasy tablets for £50—it's obviously cheaper to buy in bulk and many young people take two or three a night. He returned with a girlfriend and arrived home at 8am. He later got up and went out, coming across two scruffy men in their 20s sitting on the ground only yards from his door drinking from cans of lager. Still under the effects of ecstasy he asks if they'd like some. At first they refuse but then they call him back and buy four for £20. He makes no profit. They ask for his name and phone number and he readily supplies it. One offers him a drink from his can and he accepts. They are in fact undercover policemen waiting to trap a local crack dealer, but they got lucky. Over the next few weeks they continually try to buy drugs from the youth but he fobs them off because in reality he is not a dealer. So eventually they arrest him and charge him with supplying Class A drugs. The local lay magistrates decline jurisdiction because any supply of drugs is serious. The maximum penalty is life imprisonment. The boy's mother, a university lecture, is distraught. She explains the trauma the boy suffered as a child, his clinical depression diagnosed at the age of fourteen and his referral to psychiatric and counselling services. The prescription drugs he was given had very bad side effects and he started using ecstasy. He has attempted suicide in the past. The chance of him avoiding a custodial sentence is slim according to current sentencing guidelines.

  I could tell you many other stories but I hope these convey the flavour of some of the drugs cases I deal with every day. Please have the courage to be bold and recommend the ending of prohibition!

September 2001

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