Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1060 - 1079)



  1060. What do you say to the argument, Mr Broughton, that by adopting such a policy which faces reality, whether one likes it or not, it does give police the time to deal with forms of criminality and, to put it bluntly, not waste their time on dealing with cannabis when people possess cannabis, whether we like it or not, and I do not like it, I have the same view about cannabis as the Professor, but, facing the reality of life, the police can get on and do a job which basically we want them to do, deal with criminality? What do you say to that?
  (Mr Broughton) It is a very strong case, is it not, a very strong case and that is why we say at the end of our evidence that that case is a siren call for despair and surrender because the use of cannabis in some cases is causing despair within individuals' lives and within families.

Angela Watkinson

  1061. I would like to ask Mrs Brett a question about the direction of government policy and whether you feel it should go more in the direction of preventative education, and would you explain your views on the style and content of current drugs education and whether you feel it is achieving its purpose.
  (Mrs Brett) The style of drug education that is around at the moment and is prevalent in most schools is harm reduction. Now, harm reduction has its legitimate place. If you have got a heroin user and they are injecting, you get them to "chase the dragon", I think, which is less risky for blood-borne diseases and so on, but to bring it into a school setting where 80 to 90 per cent of children have absolutely no intention of using drugs is, in my mind, indefensible. In harm reduction literature, you read things like, "Children will use drugs anyway, let's be realistic and tell them how to do it safely. They must have informed choice". Apart from the fact that there is absolutely no guaranteed safe way to take any drug, including prescription drugs, the choice is very flawed in three ways. No one can make decisions or choices without terms of reference, and I have already said that they are not being told the truth about cannabis. Secondly, choice sidesteps whether it is right or wrong in the situation, in other words, is it legal or not legal, right or wrong. Adults and society can more or less wash their hands of the situation and relinquish their responsibility and let children make their own life-critical decisions. Children are not miniature adults, they are not mature and they cannot think in a grown-up way and make these life decisions. We do not let them choose to break the law if they are speeding later in life or even petty pilfering. We cannot control all that, but we do not say, "Let's let everyone speed" just because we cannot enforce the law. I have two examples here of harm reduction literature which you might find interesting. This is my last copy of this one unfortunately. This is from Lifeline and David mentioned Lifeline earlier. "How to survive your parents discovering you are a drug user", and the first bit of advice to children is "Don't get caught in the first place". Further down it says, "Try and stay calm. Try and educate your parents".

  1062. Can I ask you what sort of distribution that leaflet would have? Is it available in schools?
  (Mrs Brett) Yes. I was first introduced to Lifeline when I started being really concerned about this business roughly, I suppose, about five to ten years ago now. I went to a teacher training meeting on drugs and I was given Lifeline literature. When I got home and I looked at it, I was so horrified and I phoned up the lady who was taking the course—I was new at this time and rather naive—and I said to her, "Have you read this?" The cannabis booklet which I had too shows how a joint is rolled in a step-by-step diagram and I said, "Have you read this?" and she said, "No, actually I have not". It is freely available, anyone can get it. I have sent for it lots of times and there are no restrictions. I have even sent for a guide on how to inject for heroin users.

  1063. Is this the sort of literature which is used commonly by education authorities?
  (Mrs Brett) I cannot speak for all schools obviously, but I do know that there are schools which use Lifeline literature. I do not know how many, but that is probably the worst of it. This one, this is distributed by DrugScope. Now, I know you have interviewed DrugScope widely and they have sent you a lot of written evidence. If you open this booklet, which is rather expensive, it is full of colour pictures and they are on every other page. I have three spare copies of this which I can give to you. There is a picture on one of the pages where there are two young chaps in a field of cannabis wearing silly sort of policemen helmets, and there are words on it. Now, it is in very small print, but I am getting old and I can read this and children can and it says, "Have fun. Take care". What sort of message is that sending out?

  1064. Entirely the wrong one.
  (Mrs Brett) There are very few facts in this and there are some wrong facts. It says that cannabis is not physically addictive and in the next sentence they say, "But withdrawal symptoms have been seen". Well, Baroness Greenfield will know that if you get withdrawal symptoms, that means there is physical addiction, so it is very misleading and certainly their literature is used in a lot of schools.


  1065. Thank you. Can you leave those with the Clerk?
  (Mrs Brett) Yes, certainly.

  1066. We can let you have them back if needs be.
  (Mrs Brett) No, you can have them.

  1067. Can I just check before we move on, is it broadly your position that zero tolerance is the right approach to drugs? Does that go for all of you?
  (Baroness Greenfield) Yes.
  (Mrs Brett) I would love to have zero tolerance. I know it is not achievable.
  (Mr Raynes) I am not quite sure what you mean by zero tolerance. We have got to be pragmatic and I think in my written evidence I suggested a methodology for dealing with first-time users. Giving criminal convictions to first-time users in their early teens I do not think is—

  1068. Yes, but as you say in your written evidence, those are things which can be used in mitigation after you have established the facts.
  (Mr Raynes) That is a different point. That is the dealing point. I suggest in my written evidence, and I am not aware of anybody else suggesting anything like this, that we have a point scoring system and children get caught at an early stage in preventative education. I believe that the Home Office has considered something like that, but I have not heard them talk about it. I believe they have something like that done under the previous Minister, but I have not heard any real evidence about that, though I would be surprised if they had not. Zero tolerance, as you put it, what does zero tolerance mean for a 14-year-old boy with cannabis?

  1069. Well, you say to everybody, "No, we are not tolerating you having drugs and you will be punished if you are caught". You can obviously vary the degree of punishment according to the seriousness of the offence.
  (Mr Raynes) My daughter is a schoolteacher and the point scoring system she came up with actually. I did not know the Home Office had considered it and she has found children using cannabis of 14 in her school and some shock tactics have been used rather along the lines of Prince Charles' shock tactics, and I think that is very good. I think that is an approach in that we have got to catch people early.

  1070. You see, one of the arguments put forward by those who take a different view is that by telling youngsters that all drugs are bad for you, and all drugs are very bad for you, they end up not believing you or taking you seriously because they know from their personal experience that there is quite a variation of effects and they vary from the not very harmful to the obviously seriously harmful.
  (Mr Raynes) We tell them that cigarettes are damaging, but a lot of young people, particularly girls, smoke. Telling them is one part of it, but it is a whole life skill education system in preparing them to resist drugs, and a lot of children do resist drugs.
  (Baroness Greenfield) Again we come up against this murky distinction between what is harmful and "I feel okay". Now, the issue is that it could be argued that it is even more pernicious than something that is going to kill you outright or has a direct deleterious effect on your health because you will carry on taking it and it could gradually be changing your mindset, you might get amotivational syndrome and so on, so in the long term—

  1071. Are you saying that all drugs are equally harmful really?
  (Baroness Greenfield) No, because harmful is a multi-dimensional concept. You can mean harmful to your physical health, harmful acutely or harmful to your lifestyle, and of course those different drugs would score differently.

  1072. Do you think we should say to young people, and I think you do, "These are the facts and at the end you must make your own judgment about them. I am presenting you with the facts"?
  (Baroness Greenfield) What I say is, "I am not going to tell you, `Don't take drugs. Just say no'" because I know that is not the kind of persuasive argument that is going to achieve an end, but, on the other hand, if you cannot have a society where we decide whether or not we are going to murder and we do not need policing or whether or not we are going to steal, clearly we live in the imperfect world where we have to have some kind of rules and so on. I think what we have to tell young people is that when they take drugs, they are tampering with the most special part of their bodies and that is their brains and their minds over conceivably the long term. There is even evidence of long-term damage after one has given up smoking cannabis, and I think this is a very serious and big worry, not so much that you might die that night, but more that you could be under-performing and unfulfilled 30, 40 years on.

  1073. If you are taking it regularly over a period of years—
  (Baroness Greenfield) Well, I can quote to you that in the particular study I am looking at, some people have been using it for nine years and abstained from between three to six months and they were compared with long-term users of ten years or more and short-term users of three years and in all cases where they had been smoking 10 to 19 days a month, all of them, irrespective of the length, showed potential impairments compared to the controls. Now, would you want your children to be so disadvantaged?

  1074. Thank you. Mr Broughton, is it the Police Federation's position that zero tolerance is the best approach?
  (Mr Broughton) I wish it was that simple. The input from politicians in this debate has been really quite interesting. We heard Ann Widdecombe's contribution some time ago in relation to cannabis which was quite an interesting reaction. The statements from the Home Office, and your inquiry itself I think are causing problems in relation to policing and in a policing sense our responsibility is to enforce the law and that is obviously the responsibility. If the law is unclear or confused, then policing that problem becomes much more difficult. I listened to the Mayor of London just yesterday live on BBC News when he said that the increasing number of police officers will, at his suggestion, indulge in zero tolerance and enforce all offences, and I assume he means cannabis as well, or does he? I am not clear on that because I understood the Mayor of London supported what was going on in Lambeth. There is a lack of clarity at the moment in policing terms about exactly what is the drug enforcement policy and it needs to be cleared up pretty quickly because if there is a lack of clarity and if there is confusion in relation to what police officers are doing, what the Crown Prosecution Service are doing in terms of prosecution and what the courts are doing, then it will be exploited. It will be exploited by ruthless people who are trading in drugs. It would also cause great confusion and harm, I think, to young people because the signals and messages that are going out at the moment are, I would suggest, that cannabis is okay, and if cannabis is okay, then there is going to be an increased use of cannabis. Do I agree with zero tolerance? If zero tolerance means that we enforce the law, that is my job and that is the job of police officers to enforce the law. It is a matter for politicians to change the law when it is required.

  1075. So you seek clarity?
  (Mr Broughton) Yes, I understand perfectly what the role of the police is, to enforce the law, which is zero tolerance.

Mr Cameron

  1076. I am going to keep pursuing a little bit this point with perhaps in particular the police. In terms of reclassification of cannabis from B to C, is it the view of the Police Federation that that was a bad thing which sent the wrong signal?
  (Mr Broughton) I think those of us that understand exactly how cannabis enforcement has moved in, say, the last five to ten years understand exactly why the Home Secretary suggested that.

  1077. Do the Police Federation think it is a good thing or a bad thing? It is for all of us to see and we have all got to make up our minds what we think about it. Do you think it is a good thing or a bad thing?
  (Mr Broughton) I think the signal was that cannabis is okay. I think that signal was a bad signal. In terms of whether that is working and whether that actually in a practical sense is a successful change of policy, I think the jury is still out for us and that is why I am particularly keen on knowing exactly what a couple of hundred police officers in south London in this questionnaire are going to say about that because the Police Federation's role in this is to understand exactly what the practitioner is saying, so the jury is still out. What I am saying clearly is that we think that the signals which were sent out both to young people, to education and to wider society was that cannabis is okay and that signal, I think, was the wrong signal at the wrong time.

  1078. Do you not think there is a danger of hypocrisy on the part of the police here? Your submission says, ". . . the police have been operating a reasonable approach. This recognises the reality of the current situation . . ." Have you not been sending a signal to young people about cannabis by the way that you have been policing by consent?
  (Mr Broughton) Exactly right and it has been one of the most controversial policies within the police service. For instance, the current policy of caution for personal use is a London issue, it is not reflected in some of the northern cities because some of the northern cities are still prosecuting for personal use, and if there is a great debate within the police service about the rights and wrongs of a particular policy, there is not uniformity.

  1079. Do you think they should prosecute? Do you think that the police should arrest and seek prosecution for personal use of cannabis?
  (Mr Broughton) I think our job is to enforce the law and it is illegal at the moment, so that is our job. Our job is to arrest and place those matters before the CPS.

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