Examination of Witnesses (Questions 380-399)|
26 APRIL 2006
Q380 Chairman: Just to clarify that,
from your point of view you think the classification is to deal
with possession and trafficking and the penalties that follow
from that. That is the main purpose. It is not about education;
it is not about debate; it is not about the degree of harm; it
is just about that.
Mr Hayman: Other people make the
determination as to the degree of harm; we are not in a position
to comment on that. What we do is that once those discussions
have been held by the experts in that field they get put into
those classifications and that will then direct police resources
and priority. I think, on a really practical note here, even when
you ask this question you need to have some kind of view as to
what we would replace the system with if we were to rubbish it.
I do not think there is an easy answer to that. You are going
to have to have some kind of brackets, whether you call it A or
1 or any other division. What is going to direct you to put a
certain drug into those categories? That goes back to my earlier
point which is: why should we get too hot under the collar about
Q381 Chairman: Why bother having
classifications at all?
Mr Hayman: Because then you will
not be able to direct effort either in the health service or in
policing or any other discipline to a given priority. They will
all get given the same kind of even handed response. For me, as
long as we all know that the determination is pretty crude, the
way they go into these different categories, let us all go into
it with our eyes open knowing it is crude. On the other hand,
if you want it more precise then we will have to do some more
thinking on it. I think, as ever, it is the middle ground. I think
there is some decision there because it is directed by health
and scientific experts; it is not as rough as some are making
out but it is certainly not as precise as perhaps some of the
other commentators would want.
Q382 Chairman: Would you be happy
for it just to be left to the police to use their discretion?
Mr Hayman: We do anyway.
Q383 Chairman: So the classification
is irrelevant to you.
Mr Hayman: No, it is not irrelevant.
The discretion will be around the priorities that we give policing-wise
to the different categories. Clearly a Class A drug is determined
by the experts as being the most harmful and the criteria which
is directed into that conclusion and therefore I think it would
be illogical from the police perspective if we were putting a
lot of effort into a Class C drug when actually Class A presents
more harm. It is helpful in that regard.
Q384 Chairman: Alcohol, which is
not in a classification at all, is a lot more harmful than most
of the drugs that are in Class C.
Mr Hayman: I am not in a position
to comment on that.
Q385 Chairman: Professor Blakemore,
what do you feel should be the primary purpose of the classification?
Professor Blakemore: I would agree
with Andy that the classification is intended as a useful guide
to the direction of priorities for medical care, to policing operations
and to the work of the judiciary in trying to deal with the problem
of drug abuse. The question would be that if the system is acknowledged
to be roughI think Andy used that term, that it is only
a rough guidethen where is the nuancing of the interpretation
coming from and on the basis of what expertise is that nuancing
occurring? Is it on the basis of some additional assessment of
risk in the mind of a doctor treating someone with drug problems?
Or a police officer considering whether to caution them or arrest
them? Or the courts in dealing with the case? Is it an opportunity
for the exercise of personal views and prejudices?
Q386 Chairman: Is the primary purpose
then really, as Andy said, about helping in terms of policing
and the judicial system? I am surprised, in your particular position,
that you would not see it in terms of sort of degrees of harm
and how we actually deal with it; a classification system which
would actually support the work of the MRC and the health service.
Professor Blakemore: I am no expert
on the law but I think primarily the classification is used to
guide policing efforts. However, it also influences public and
political reaction. The fact that a drug is classed in a category
which is perceived as being especially risky influences the attitude
of people, the media and politicians to that drug. If the placement
of the drug in that category is only rough and if it not particularly
rationally assessed then the attitudes to society and the media
and politicians are misplaced.
Q387 Dr Iddon: I want to try to direct
my questions to Mr Hayman, please. Do you think placing a drug
in a higher category has any deterrent effect on the user at all?
Mr Hayman: You would have to ask
a user that to get the best reply, but if you want my professional
judgment based on my interaction with users I cannot envisage
a usera dependent user, that ishaving any kind of
thought as to whether it was a Class A, B or C drug they were
consuming. They may know that but they may not; all they are worried
about is the dependency that they suffer from. That is my professional
take on it, but I think you would have to ask the users to get
the most accurate reply.
Q388 Dr Iddon: Do you think there
is any relationship between the classification of a drug and the
amount of criminal activity? I put it to you that by placing a
drug in a higher category with the higher risks involved of sentencing
and the whole judiciary process, that puts a higher price on the
drug so the criminals are more attracted to trading in those higher
Mr Hayman: It depends on what
you are defining as the link with crime. We have to go back to
first base. What is directing what classification of drug goes
into is the scientific and medical harm. It has no relationship
with the crime that might be associated with it. It would be a
very interesting research project I am sure (which Colin would
jump at) to try to determine whether there is a relationship as
you have tried to suggest. For me there is well recorded academic
research which shows that certain drugs have certain linkages
with certain crimes. Some are violent; some are acquisitive, but
to start making those links in with the classification I think
we are going to mix up loads of different methodologies. For me
it is very clear; there is a clear thought process as to why a
drug goes into a different classification. Certain drugs have
certain relationships with certain crimes.
Q389 Dr Iddon: Has ACPO ever discussed
the classification of drugs, even before the home secretary decided
to look at the system?
Mr Hayman: Yes.
Q390 Dr Iddon: What conclusions did
you come to?
Mr Hayman: I think it was in 2001/02
when we wrote the ACPO policy statement right across the whole
agenda of drugs which included classification. In fact at the
moment we are just reviewing that for an update. You may see our
position as a bit of a cop-out but I think it is a professionally
reliable position. We do not have a view on what classification
is; that is not our job. It is for experts to determine what classification
drugs go into and once that is then linked to legislation and
police powers and priorities we would then implement that. Our
position on the re-classification on cannabis was that we all
stand ready for the experts to express their opinion and then
we will operate guidelines to implement that on the street.
Q391 Dr Iddon: We will be coming
to cannabis shortly so I will not pursue that now. To any member
of the panel, do we have the best practice operating in Britain
regarding our classification system or is there a better one somewhere
else in another country?
Mr Hayman: I have probably already
shown my hand in the earlier questions, I really do not think
we should get too hot under the collar around this classification.
It is there to guide and it is as simple as that. If we get too
sophisticated around that process we will be strangled by the
sophistication of classifying a drug rather than getting on and
doing the job both from a medical perspective and from a law enforcement
perspective and for the greater good of the community. It might
be very interesting to travel to other countries but actually
we are in this country now and we have a job to do and I think
we should just roll our sleeves up and get on with it.
Q392 Dr Iddon: In this early part
of this evidence session I am getting the feeling that perhaps
the home secretary is misguided by reviewing the system because
everybody here seems quite happy about it. Why is the home secretary
calling for a review of the system? Does anybody know?
Mr Hayman: He is the person to
Dr Iddon: We will, of course.
Q393 Chairman: Can you hazard a guess,
Professor Blakemore: I think that
the driver for the review was quite clearly the time, effort,
deliberation and conflicting advice that impinged on the decision
not to re-classify cannabis, and the realisation that the arbitrary
(and I would defend that word) boundary between B and C was not
easily defensible. If it took so much effort to consider one particular
drug and whether it should be placed on one side or other of a
boundary, does it not imply that the entire mechanism for classifying
requires a new look? There are other issues too and I suspect
that the Advisory Council pointed these outthat some drugs
might simply have become lodged in categories on the basis of
historical allocation, which might have seemed very reasonable
at the time but the present position cannot easily be defended
on the basis of present evidence. I point particularly to the
hallucinogens in category A and also perhaps to ecstasy.
Mr Hayman: I think another interesting
question to pose here is that, let us say this is such a grim
situation that we are facing here and we have it all badly wrong.
I do not mean this in a flippant way but, so what? What is the
consequence of getting it so badly wrong and how much effect does
that really have on the medical and law enforcement functions?
I actually cannot see that there are major consequences.
Q394 Mr Devine: Surely if I had that
Class A drug I would go to jail but if I had a Class C drug you
would let me go.
Mr Hayman: Not necessarily, no.
Q395 Chairman: If you were caught
selling magic mushrooms which are in Class A you would go to prison.
Mr Hayman: On the current classification
and the current penalty.
Q396 Chairman: You have been arguing
that one of the major reasons for the ABC classification is its
links in terms with crime and punishment.
Mr Hayman: Having been classified
the punishment is then linked to that.
Q397 Chairman: You are splitting
Mr Hayman: That is what I am saying.
Exactly. I think the whole debate is very interesting but it does
not take us anywhere at all. If we got members of the public in
here now, even with the layman's understanding of it, and if we
put all the different types of drugs on the table I bet they would
be able to determine which were more serious than the others.
Q398 Mr Newmark: I am interesting
in what you are saying here, Andy. On the one hand you are saying
that you play a very passive role in this whole process of classification
and that at the end of the day it does not matter because frankly
if you see kids dealing in something in a playground in a village
in Essexwhere I am fromyou will deal with it anyway,
whether it is magic mushrooms or acid or heroin or whatever. You
are just going to go there and do it. That is what you are saying.
You say it helps guide your priorities, but you have not talked
at all about what input you have in this process. You must have,
as the police, some input because it is your resources that you
are allocating at the end of the day. You are at the sharp end
in seeing what is going on on the ground. I am really curious;
you must have some input as a police force in determining what
this classification is.
Mr Hayman: We do; we have two
seats on the ACMD and we will make a contribution to it. When
we had the re-classification of cannabis debate I was part of
that discussion. It has to be said that the input from the police
is going to be very narrow compared with other colleagues on ACMD
because the main rationale as to why something goes into a different
classification is based on medical and scientific evidence, not
necessarily on what the police would bring to the party. I am
not saying it is ignored because it is not and the chair of the
ACMD is very inclusive, but I am not in a position to be able
to offer that kind of technical advice. What I can offer are some
of the points that I was asked before about the impact that certain
drugs have on crime on the street and on the fabric of the community,
and the consequence of drug misuse or dependency in the community
under controlled circumstances.
Q399 Mr Newmark: Also the proliferation
of drugs and therefore if you are seeing far more on the ground,
ie people are using a particular drug far more, I have to believe
that as a police force you then have input on determining what
the classification or the re-classification of that drug should
be. If something is something is suddenly Class Chypotheticallyand
you are spending ten times your resources now dealing with that
Class C drug, surely you are going to go back and say that this
needs to be re-classified.
Mr Hayman: My understandingand
I might be wrong on itis that that would not be a strong
weighting or indeed a current criteria as to why something goes
into A, B or C. It is very relevant material but it is not a show
stopper for it.
Professor Strang: You asked a
little while ago about what functions the classification system
served. The other one that I hope you would consider is the way
in which it shapes the general public's views on drugs. There
is something about the way in which government and the public
perception of drugs are portrayed which influences those early
stages of drug use that I do not see any involvement in in my
clinical work. In that regard it is strange that we do not peep
over the garden fence at the alcohol and tobacco fields to try
to learn lessons where you would presume there were generaliseable
findings. The presumption would be that those observations would