Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1100 - 1119)



Mr Cameron

  1100. I suppose, Chairman, the equivalent would be a packet of cigarettes which has the tar and the nicotine levels on the side. Is that not what the proponents of legalisation who say it should be sold through off licences, is that not what they are saying?
  (Mrs Brett) If you are going to declassify or down-classify cannabis, then it is not going to be legal, if this is what we are talking about still, it is not going to be legal anyway, so—


  1101. I am sorry, I am talking about legalisation here, not declassification. That is a different argument. I am saying the case for legalising is that you can then regulate the trade, whereas you were saying just a moment ago that kids do not know what they are buying, that the quality and strength varies dramatically.
  (Mrs Brett) Yes, I think Mr Raynes probably can answer this.
  (Mr Raynes) If you legalised and regulated the trade, actually that would be an incentive for stronger plants of cannabis to come on to the market, would it not? More than 20 per cent of the UK cigarette and tobacco market is controlled by gangsters. What you need to do, sir, is to read the comments on the Internet about cannabis by people who talk about it all the time and if you get into their heads and understand how they think about it, they talk about the strong varieties of cannabis and they talk about being out of it for hours and hours and hours. A regulated trade, it is a proposal, we are not going to have it, are we, but if we had a regulated trade, you would have people supplying something stronger and there would be a market for that, there is a market for that.

  1102. But you would make it legal on the grounds that it was harmful, or else you might not make it legal and you might just explain that this is the effect it has on you and allow them to hold their own card hand, as some other witnesses have said.
  (Mr Raynes) I think the evidence in the Netherlands where they have taken a very tolerant attitude to cannabis is that netherweed, or nederwent, is probably the strongest cannabis on the planet and, as Mary Brett said, they have selectively bred cannabis and it is extremely strong and very dangerous.

  1103. But if you explained the effects and made it legally available and said that you cannot drive, for example, and you will be prosecuted if you do, would that not be a way of getting some sort of grip on a trade on which we appear to have no grip at all?
  (Mr Raynes) My whole lifetime has been trying to get a grip on the trade and so many times it has been cannabis and sometimes it has been tobacco and alcohol. We have not got a grip on the tobacco market and we cannot, so what you are proposing to me—

  1104. Well, we have more of a grip on the tobacco market and indeed there is some on the alcohol market too.
  (Mr Raynes) We have a little bit more on the alcohol market because it is more open, but on the tobacco market 20 per cent at least is controlled by the mafia.

  1105. But if 80 per cent is sold through regulated outlets, presumably regulation works for that 80 per cent, does it not?
  (Mr Raynes) Well, it does not, does it, because we know that kids smoke cigarettes and we try to control kids getting cigarettes, so it does not work. We have attempted down the road to regulation, but regulation just would not work in this market.
  (Baroness Greenfield) I would just question the logic there that it should be legal so that we can regulate it because if that was the only reason, then surely that argument should also apply to heroin, ecstasy, LSD and so forth.

  1106. I think that those who make that argument do indeed apply it to that and, as Mr Broughton was saying a moment ago, there is a very good case in relation to heroin.
  (Baroness Greenfield) I think it should be seen that if that is the argument, it should be apply to the whole of the drugs spectrum.

  1107. I think that those who make that argument do intend that. The one dodgy area, if I may call it that, is crack cocaine where everyone knows that people's behaviour becomes unpredictable and often very violent.
  (Mr Broughton) There is more than one dodgy area because as soon as you think you understand the drugs culture—

  1108. Perhaps I should say "the most dodgy".
  (Mr Broughton) As soon as you think you understand the drugs culture on the streets, you have missed it, you are old-fashioned because it moves at a fast pace and drugs are moving quickly on the street in terms of fashion and culture. If you are thinking about legalising and regulating, then quickly there will be drugs on the streets which are outside of that regulation and the first question you asked about legalising or regulating or whatever was whether this is a good idea and I think whether it is a good idea or not is the first barrier. I do not hear the Dutch and those of us who are interested in this subject and go over to Holland and try to understand what is going on there, and I have been in drug squad offices and spoken to the practitioners there, I am not hearing that cannabis in terms of state supply is a regulated business. I do not know whether that might be a new idea over there, but I am not hearing Holland moving into some form of standards in relation to cannabis, some official standards.

  1109. Well, it would not be such a dramatic step forward from where we are with, say, cigarettes, would it?
  (Mr Broughton) I think it would be probably quite a dramatic step. To start to legalise and regulate a whole range of drugs and not consider what the social implications of that are is a step too far at this stage.

  Chairman: Yes, but that is what we are trying to do, to think of the social implications.

Mr Cameron

  1110. I have just one last question on the Dutch experiences. We have had very conflicting evidence about the Dutch experience. One group of witnesses said to us, from memory, that when they first went into the café experiment, drug use did increase, particularly cannabis use, but they now claim that cannabis use in Holland is lower than in the United Kingdom and actually the average age of a heroin user in Holland is getting older, whereas in the United Kingdom it is getting lower. Is that your experience—perhaps this is one for Mrs Brett and Mr Raynes—or do you think that is wrong?
  (Mrs Brett) I do not have very up-to-date figures for the use of cannabis in Holland for teenagers. I have the figures for the AMCDDA, that is the European Monitoring Council, for 2000. They are, ecstasy use amongst 15 to 16 year olds was 8.1, United Kingdom was 3.0; cocaine 4.3, United Kingdom 1.5; heroin, 1.3, United Kingdom 0.7. This is lifetime prevalence of 15 to 16 year olds. Somebody said a while ago separating the cannabis from the hard drugs scene in Holland, it does not work. Their use of harder drugs at a younger age is much higher than ours.

  Mr Cameron: We have been given evidence to say the opposite.

Angela Watkinson

  1111. Could I ask Mr Broughton, if he agrees that the main plank of government policy should be preventative education to prevent the next generation of drug addicts being formed? Do you agree that however good and well informed preventative education is, in schools and outside, it can never work without the back up of sanctions in law?
  (Mr Broughton) Yes, I do agree with that. What is good about the United Kingdom Drugs Policy, and it is always worth re-reading it, is that I thought the main plank of the policy was in relation to enforcement connected to sanctions and punishment, connected to treatment and the way that the three planks operate in terms of coordination, investment and all of those things. I was just talking, before I came here, about somebody who is under the influence of crack cocaine and was arrested in a London police station last night, who might be involved in some criminal activity as well and might be vulnerable in terms of their medical condition, there is no easy place, no drug rehabilitation centre, there is no treatment in relation to their own safety. One of the things I thought we were promised in the United Kingdom Drugs Policy was this relationship between enforcement and punishment and treatment and the way you can divert people within the system, the courts can have some flexibility in relation to sanctions, send people to rehabilitation and get some coordination going. That is where I think there has been a failure, that is a failure of proper coordination and it may be a failure in investment. I agree with what you are saying.

David Winnick

  1112. Professor Greenfield if one accepts, as I do, as I said previously, the harm all drugs do, including cannabis, coming back to the argument regarding cigarettes and alcohol, the evidence seems to show that more harm is done by excessive alcohol abuse and smoking, and we know that by the terrible diseases, certainly lung cancer, which result from smoking. What do you say to the argument that if smoking and alcohol remains legalised, and no one has suggested otherwise, why not bring drugs into the same category and at the same time constantly warning people of the effect there would be of taking drugs?
  (Baroness Greenfield) If we unpack that. To differentiate cigarettes from alcohol, which I think is important to do, let us take cigarettes first, I would challenge the evidence that cigarettes are more harmful than cannabis, because there is a lot of evidence that the lack of filters, and so on, on cigarettes and the increased heat and carcinogenic they contain are more pernicious than in cannabis.

  1113. You do not deny it causes tremendous health problems?
  (Baroness Greenfield) Of course it does. As an aside, it is very interesting that not one paper is published on the badness of GM foods and yet people are legislating against, that even though there are proven substances here that are dangerous for you and people are trying to embrace them.

  1114. Chairman: I think we will stay out of GM food.
  (Baroness Greenfield) If we then turn to alcohol. Alcohol in excess, as with cigarettes, is undeniably bad for you but the amounts that you have to take comparable with cannabis do suggest—we know it is the case they work in very different ways—that with cannabis you have to take, as it were, a fraction of a milligram to have an effect where as you are into four figures of milligrams with alcohol. We know that alcohol works in a very generalised, non-specific way in the brain compared to cannabis, which works on very specific molecular targets and acts as an imposter, as do other drugs, for naturally occurring agents. If one sets aside the acute effects, the immediate feeling of dreaminess or happiness, it could mean that in the long term cannabis has a much more destructive and powerful effect on the configurations of your brain cells than, let us say, alcohol. I am not in any way condoning the excessive use of alcohol but in speaking with people who see drug abusers everyday the social use of alcohol, that is two to three units for a woman and three to four units for a man, is not comparable with social smoking. I think that is a very slippery slope if people equate the two.

  David Winnick: Yes. Thank you.

Bridget Prentice

  1115. I just want, in a sense, to go back slightly to the discussion about the effect of decriminalisation. A number of you have said very strongly that decriminalisation would inevitably increase use, "it always does", that was Mrs Brett's quote. The NDPA said, "it would increase and encourage it, as evidence from other countries show" and the Police Federation say something similar. Two things, one is, what evidence do you have that decriminalisation would actually increase prevalence? Secondly, particularly, what evidence do you have about other countries? I know Mrs Brett gave us some quotes about the year 2000, I would like some expansion on that.
  (Mrs Brett) I have evidence of increase prevalence in Holland when it was decriminalised. I have evidence from Alaska, which I know some people have quoted before. The Alaskan experiment lasted 10 or 15 years and they did a survey at one point and use amongst the youth of Alaska was 45 per cent, sorry if I get these slightly wrong, they are about that region. General use in the States was about 17 per cent. I have charts at home, again from South Australia, where they decriminalised in certain states and they compared then the usage with young people in other states in Australia and it was either two or three times the usage in the state that had been decriminalised. There is plenty of evidence round that it increases use.

  1116. Does that not level off as they get older? We have some people saying there would be an increase in the use of cannabis if it was decriminalised, but as people get older they move on to other things.
  (Mrs Brett) In Holland they started their decriminalisation about 1978, I think that was the exact date, and there are figures from 1984 to 1988 that the use of cannabis doubled amongst young people. That is the only figure I have in my head, which I can quote you off the top of my head. There must be figures in other states.
  (Mr Raynes) The real problem is there is always a new generation coming along ready to be influenced. My conviction after a lifetime in enforcement is that prevention is the method because we have to stop this cycle, which is like a snowball rolling down the slope, and the only way to stop it is not by enforcement. Fred Broughton's organisation and mine cannot stop it, we cannot leave it to enforcement, it has to be prevention and education and the right kind of prevention and education.

  1117. Did you not say earlier that there was beginning to be a drop in young people taking up cigarette smoking?
  (Mr Raynes) I did not say that. I am very concerned about young people, particularly girls in my observation, smoking. I cannot understand why it is that girls are smoking more than boys, except that less girls take part in sport. Physical health has a lot to do with whether one takes substances.

  1118. That is an interesting debate we cannot have at the moment.
  (Mr Broughton) Can I briefly make a contribution, it was a blinding flash of honesty from an Australian police officer, a colleague, we were discussing international crime and drugs and we were getting into this debate in quite a heavy way and, in a way, trying to understand what options might be available. He came up with, as Australians do, "you know why they are doing this, it is because they think it is fun". Young people that smoke cannabis and taking ecstasy are not doing it to harm themselves they are doing it because they think it is great fun and they enjoy it. You have to understand that. They are not concerned about whether they are self-harming, they are not concerned whether or not it might effect their education or the social fabric of their relationship, they think it is great fun. You have to understand that is what is going on. People are not smoking cannabis and taking ecstasy because it is painful or uncomfortable they are taking it because they think it is fun.

  1119. That is why, I put it to you again, is it not the case that it is fun when you are 16 but by the time you are 36 you have grown out of it, you have become a responsible adult, you have family commitments, whatever?
  (Mr Broughton) 36 year olds are snorting cocaine in London, that is what the 36 year old are doing, there is growing evidence of that.

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