Submitted by Francis Wilkinson
1. I spent 30 years as a police officer
and retired as Chief Constable of Gwent in 1999. I am a Patron
of Transform, the drugs legislation campaigning organisation.
Last year I wrote The Leaf and the Law (published by The
Centre for Reform) which made a case for the legalisation of cannabis
and proposed a regime for it.
2. In relation to the question of how the
Government's policy should be judged I endorse the separate submission
of Transform. The following submission deals with the practicalities
of law reform and assumes that the case is made for some
closer and more effective regulation of the drugs trade (often
THE UN CONVENTIONS
3. The UK is signatory to the three UN Conventions
on drugs. The 1961 Single Convention deals particularly with heroin,
cocaine and cannabis and requires states to prohibit their use
for other than medical and scientific purposes. The 1988 Convention
adds the specific requirement that criminal penalties must be
attached to the laws prohibiting the possession of these drugs.
4. This is a major constraint on reform
and leaves the UK with four options for change:
adopt a regime in which the laws
remain on the statute book but are not enforced;
adopt a regime in which possession
and other minor drug offences are reduced to the level of administrative
offences, while supply remains a criminal offence; and
work to get the UN Conventions changed
to permit more thorough going legislation.
This assumes that it is not an acceptable optionthough
legally possibleto withdraw unilaterally from the Conventions,
because the drugs trade is international (estimated at 8 per cent
of international trade).
5. The options are considered in turn.
6. The Government has sponsored trials of
cannabis with a view to authorising its use for medical purposes.
The Conventions allow medical use and would thereby also allow
a freer supply of heroin than the current regime. Until the 1970s
the "Old British System" supplied heroin on prescription
to users on the basis that it was a medical necessity. There is
scope within the Conventions to supply any drug to those who have
such a need. It is argued that a heroin (rather than a methadone)
supply regime would reduce the heroin black market and the enormous
profits of the violent gangs which operate it. NCIS estimates
(August 2001) the heroin and cocaine trade in the UK to be worth
7. Here is the one area where the law in
the UK can be beneficially changed within the UN Conventions.
I recommend that heroin prescribing regimes, including the possibility
of pharmacist authorised supply, be examined as a matter or urgency.
I have constantly in mind the numbers of murders in the gang-controlled
drug trade caused by the present supply regime. After rising during
alcohol prohibition in the USA between 1920 and 1933, murders
in the USA fell in each of the 11 years following its repeal.
A substantial proportion of the rising number of murders in the
UK results from the drugs trade being in the hands of organised
8. This is the Dutch option. The well-known
system of cannabis cafes in the Netherlands operates contrary
to their law which has remained unchanged. The Dutch use discretion
not to prosecute either the cafes or their customers.
9. This leaves the cafes to buy their supplies
from organised crime. More than half Dutch prison inmates are
there for drug-related crime. The illegal import, cultivation
and export of cannabis thrive in the Netherlands as elsewhere,
as does the crime associated with the drugs trade.
10. The disadvantages of this approach are:
it pays only lip service to the UN
it does nothing to reduce the evils
of a drug trade controlled by criminal gangs;
it is unethical: implying that consuming
and retailing cannabis is acceptable, while wholesaling and importing
is wrong. The former cannot exist without the latter. The fact
that this is an ethically untenable position can only bring the
law and policy into disrepute;
the educational consequences of such
confusion are negative: it will not discourage drug-taking; and
such double-think can only encourage
corruption: law enforcement agencies are left to decide in a moral
vacuum what is and what is not to be prosecuted, where there is
no victim to complain and where there is a great deal of cash.
In addition it would, I submit, be contrary
to the UK rule of law to regulate one part of a supply chain while
criminalising another part. It is not logical, practical or ethical.
11. The Dutch system has the advantages
that it decriminalises the user of cannabis (a harmless member
of society using a rather safe and mild drug) and that it is within
the UN Convention. I suggest that these advantages are not sufficient
to outweigh the problems in the previous paragraph.
12. This is the Police Foundation approach.
Their Inquiry Report Drugs and the Law proposes what the
Chairman of the Inquiry describes as depenalisation of cannabis
possession and of cultivation for personal use. The proposal is
in two parts: that the offences should remain but cease to carry
sentences of imprisonment, and that they only be prosecuted in
exceptional circumstances. The second part resembles the Dutch
13. There are two oddities about the proposal.
The first is the recommendation of the inquiry that cannabis be
moved from Class "B" under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971
to Class "C". Class "C" drugs carry a maximum
two year prison sentence for possession, and five years for supplying.
The Inquiry Report proposes no imprisonment for possession and
seven years for supplying. That would put cannabis in a class
of its own.
14. The second oddity is more substantial.
The proposal would mean that a purchaser of cannabis would, on
obtaining possession, be liable to prosecution (however rarely
used) for an offence roughly equivalent to a minor traffic offence
in terms of the punishment available to the court. The seller,
on the other hand, would commit a serious offence triable only
in the Crown Court. Nowhere else in the criminal law is there
a transaction where liability is so lopsided. Like the Dutch system
it would mean that the supply business would remain in the hands
of criminal gangs, with all the other disadvantages mentioned
at paragraph 10 above. It would also leave the possibility of
purchasers being prosecuted for aiding and abetting supply, carrying
seven years imprisonment.
15. For these reasons and those which also
apply to the Dutch system, I would oppose these proposals.
16. It follows, I believe, that no change
should be made to the UK laws on the non-medical supply of prohibited
drugs until the UN Conventions have been amended. As the case
for change demands urgent action it is disappointing that improvement
will be thereby delayed.
17. There are however consolations to be
the drugs trade is largely international,
and it would be unacceptable for suppliers to be committing serious
criminal offences up to the point of entry to British territory
and then become legitimate;
most other European countries have
adapted the Convention requirements locally to avoid penalising
possession, and would be likely to support amendments; and
compliance with the Conventions is
subject to the principles of a state's own laws. In Europe that
generally includes the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
Many Europeans, and some states, believe that criminalising personal
possession infringes the right to private life under Article 8
of the ECHR. Removing the UN Convention requirement for each state
to have such a law would remove this problem.
18. Accordingly, I submit to the Committee
(a) a developed heroin prescribing regime
is required; and
(b) work should be done on a replacement
UN Convention which would permit recreational drugs to be cultivated,
supplied and possessed subject to appropriate regimes in each