Examination of Witness (Questions 700
TUESDAY 11 DECEMBER 2001
700. Do you realise and do others realise that
if you move cannabis from class B to class C, you lower the maximum
penalty for dealing from 12 years to five years? This means that
on a guilty plea the court cannot impose more than about three
and a half years, which means that the parole position for higher
offences does not apply and in real terms the maximum that any
person can serve who supplies any amount of cannabis by way of
dealing is now down to 18 months if you move it into class C,
as opposed to a hugely higher sentence prior to movement into
class C. Same applies to ecstasy from class A to class B. Is that
(Mr Trace) Yes, it is a problem and it is one of the
two dilemmas I would be expecting the Home Office to be thrashing
through now with ACPO. If you move cannabis to class C you have
that problem. I would say in relation to that problem, that if
you look at the sentences given so far, very few people actually
get more than 18 months anyway for cannabis supply.
701. I am talking about the big dealers, the
(Mr Trace) All I say is that it is relatively small
numbers, but yes, it would have that impact. You may be in a situation
where you would have a very major dealer whom you have caught
for shipments of cannabis, whom you know is involved in a lot
of other things as well, where the appropriate sentence would
be a lot more than that. That is a dilemma they need to look at.
The other dilemma they need to look at is obviously removing the
arrestability for cannabis possession offences because quite often
arresting somebody on a cannabis possession is a start of a much
bigger investigation. It brings in some dilemmas for operational
policing and I would hope that the Home Office are looking at
that before they implement anything in the spring. On balance
I would still go ahead with the initiative but absolutely, there
is a dilemma.
702. You said earlier that Britain has the highest
use of drugs. If decriminalisation were to be put in place, do
you think the danger is that not only here but in other countries
the message would be that we have abandoned the fight over drugs?
(Mr Trace) It is absolutely sure that that is how
it would be portrayed. There is a danger, and it is to some extent
true, that if you come to the conclusion and say all of our operations
to reduce prevalence in this country have not reduced prevalence
so we are going to deprioritise those actions, then you cannot
dress that up any other way: we are giving up a certain set of
actions because they have not worked. The presentational issues
of that I shall leave for others to try to work their way through.
Basically that would be portrayed in our press as giving up the
fight against drugs. In my view it is not giving up the fight
at all, because the more important fight is reducing the harm.
703. Against which of course it could be argued
that despite the very strong controls on drugs , and only very
recently in the last few months has there been any change regarding
cannabis which even now the Home Office denies is any decriminalisation
of that drug, despite all that we have the highest rate of all
countries in Europe. So the argument could run the other way.
So the answer to the first question I put to you this morning
seems to be that the drug policy does not seem to be working.
(Mr Trace) I should say that is my position
now with the level of experience and knowledge I have at the moment.
Despite the well-intentioned efforts to reduce prevalence in this
country significantly, we have not managed to. You can respond
to that in two ways. You can either say we have to work a lot
harder and do more of it, or you can say there are more important
things for us to be prioritising resources to. I would also link
here to a European Monitoring Centre report. We launched the annual
report in Brussels last month and one of the pieces of work looked
at the 15 Member States' attitude to drug use in general. Did
they have harsh policies? Did they implement them harshly? We
could find no link across 15 Member States between the robustness
of their policies and the level of prevalence. There are some
countries with high prevalence, harsh policies, some countries
with low prevalence, harsh policies, other countries with liberal
policies and low prevalence. There is no link, there is no conceivable
David Winnick: Very interesting indeed. Thank
704. Where did Sweden come in that?
(Mr Trace) Low prevalence, harsh policies. The Swedish
experience would lead you towardsand this is the attitude
of most Swedish analystssaying if you are really harsh
and repressive and really push very hard in your prevention work
and your enforcement, you can keep prevalence low. That is their
(Mr Trace) Holland's experience is the longest experience
of a liberal approach, where they have openly said that they would
not enforce cannabis possession laws now for some 25-26 years.
Their prevalence is significant but not the highest; similar to
France, similar to Spain, Italy.
706. But lower than Britain's.
(Mr Trace) Yes.
Chairman: Thank you very much for coming. It
has been very helpful.