JOHN HUMPHRYS: Now the question of
what to do about drugs - especially so-called "soft" drugs - is always
a very touchy one for politicians in power. Privately many of them think
it's crazy to have laws that make criminals of people who smoke the odd
spliff. But publicly they're very nervous about being seen to be soft on
drugs. This government has grasped the nettle. They allowed an experiment
in Brixton where the police turned a blind eye to pot smokers and announced
they wanted to reclassify drugs such as cannabis so that personal use would
no longer be punished by the law. There's expected to be a Bill included
in the Queen's speech in a few weeks. But now, as Iain Watson reports,
there are Labour backbenchers getting cold feet.
IAIN WATSON: The Labour heartlands have
come to London...John Mann, the MP for Bassetlaw in Nottinghamshire is
leading a delegation from the former coal fields to ministers at Westminster
but they aren't asking for jobs, subsidies or handouts - instead, they
want a helping hand to tackle the scourge of heroin sweeping through their
communities; John Mann's travelling companions have each contributed to
a report based on a three day inquiry into drug abuse in his area, a problem
he says central government has overlooked for far too long.
JOHN MANN: The perception is that drugs
is an inner city problem, and I'm sure it is an inner city problem, but
it's also a problem in former mining communities, what we've seen is the
pits shut in the 80s and the early '90s shut over night, and peoples' aspirations
have been reduced with that.
WATSON: In Bassetlaw, it's estimated
that at least seven hundred people are addicted to heroin.
comes despair. Bassetlaw is an old coal mining constituency lying between
Nottingham and Sheffield, but here the colleries have now been replaced
by call centres; as a sense of community has been in decline, drug use
has been on the increase. The MP for this Labour heartland is anxious to
tackle the problem but he says it can only be helped if the Government
takes a much tougher line on drugs.
ACTUALITY. So how long
has this factory been shutdown?
WATSON; This decaying
and dangerous structure is just outside Worksop, the main town in John
Mann's constituency ..it's found a new use as a down market modern day
ACTUALITY: There's a needle just
here. You can see here, all around here all the paraphernalia, we've got
a spoon here.
WATSON: John Mann's inquiry into
heroin abuse came up with findings which he hadn't anticipated ..that most
young addicts had started out on a drug more associated with peace and
love than desperation and despair.
MANN: What we found was that young
people had experimented with a range of drugs, but what they did say, and
it did surprise me, and it surprised the panel, was they compared the experience
of taking cannabis, with the experience of taking heroin. Of course heroin
is more powerful, has a greater impact. It gives them a greater hit and
a greater buzz, but what they felt was, and they said it many, many times
to us, because they could control their cannabis use, because the experience
was similar they felt they could control their initial use with heroin.
WATSON: The Hope drop in centre
in Worksop allows young heroin addicts safe haven off the streets during
the daytime. Emma Layhe is twenty one and her heroin habit has already
cost her her liberty; she was shoplifting to pay for her forty pound a
day addiction and has already been in prison four times in her young life.
When did you start taking
EMMA LAYHE: When I was fifteen.
LAYHE: I started with me cannabis
and other softer drugs then heroin came into the town so I tried it and
I been on it ever since
WATSON: So when you took cannabis
at first that encouraged you to try other drugs?
WATSON: Next summer the Government
intends to downgrade cannabis from a class b drug - which includes amphetamines
- to class c, ranking it alongside some painkillers; while there will be
tougher penalties for drug dealing in most cases, possession of cannabis
for personal use won't lead to arrest. John Mann says the Government has
got it wrong.
MANN: We don't want to see any
mixed message about drugs. We want zero tolerance of all drugs and that
includes cannabis. What we've found is that young people have been experimenting
with a range of illegal drugs, and our view is that if you tolerate drugs,
then that gives the wrong message to young people in the community.
WATSON: Sue and David Matthews'
lives have been ruined by heroin - not because they've ever used it, but
because their twenty two year old son has been an addict for seven years
and he's now been sent to prison for theft. They want to see the Government
put resources into much needed treatment for heroin users rather than making
the reclassification of cannabis a priority.
SUE MATTHEWS: It's a terrible thing isn't
it, when you're relieved that your son has gone to prison, to be locked
up for twenty- three hours a day with no treatment for his addiction but
it's got him off the street and there's no help here in Worksop for him,
so he's better off in there . If he's getting any drugs while he's in
there it won't be the same amount as what he gets out here.
DAVID MATTHEWS: Cannabis is a stepping stone for,
for younger people like my son, it's not used at their age recreationally
it's used on an every day basis, like smoking cigarettes, they just use
it and use it until there's no buzz in it and they have to move on to something
else, I think it's very very wrong that the government are declassifying
cannabis, I think it's a big mistake and they really should reconsider
what they're doing.
WATSON: People here in Bassetlaw
have seen at first hand the damage which hard drugs can cause so they're
worried that even the reclassification of cannabis could be a sign that
the government is going soft and ignoring the concerns of voters in Labour's
heartlands. Yet there's a growing number of backbench MPs who say that
a more tolerant attitude to drug taking is the key to reducing drug use;
and they are looking to one of Britain's near neighbours for inspiration.
Historically, Amsterdam has been famous for its canals and, of course,
its tulips but these days it has become known for its relaxed attitude
to a rather different form of plant life.
If you are looking for a pick me up in Amsterdam there's certainly no
shortage of coffee shops; but the kind of products on sale here wouldn't
be found in your local Starbucks.
UN-NAMED SHOP ASSISTANT: Hello.
WATSON: Can I have a coffee please...
UN-NAMED SHOP ASSISTANT: Yes, sure.
WATSON: And can I have a look at
UN-NAMED SHOP ASSISTANT: Well here it is, there you go
- this is the skunk and this is the hashish we got - Moroccan black hash.
WATSON: How much can you sell?
UN-NAMED SHOP ASSISTANT: I can sell five grammes a person
WATSON: And you wouldn't be prosecuted
for selling five grammes?
UN-NAMED SHOP ASSISTANT: No, not for that, no.
WATSON: It may seem rather bizarre
that cannabis is on sale here quite so openly but experts in the Netherlands
say this doesn't increase drug use; in fact it may even have the reverse
Since coffee shops opened more than twenty years ago, the sale of small
amounts of soft drugs hasn't been legalised but it is tolerated. The
aim of the policy is to get users of cannabis out of the hands of dealers
who also sell hard drugs such as heroin.
Across the city, the Jellinek Institute not only treats drug addicts but
carries out research into drug use; Dr Janhuib Blans says his statistics
show that the policy is working
DR JANHUIB BLANS: Less young people are going
into hard drugs, for instance, I'll show you this one. If you look at
this one, for instance, in '81 it was almost fifteen per cent and if you
go down to 2000 it is less than half per cent young people under twenty
two years old using opiates.
WATSON: How does the use of soft
drugs and hard drugs compare in the Netherlands with the United Kingdom
and some other countries?
BLANS: Well, we do studies in Europe
and the Aspect study is a famous one among fifteen, sixteen year old school
kids. In the Netherlands, life time user of cannabis is twenty eight per
cent among fifteen to sixteen year olds, school going kids and it is in
the UK...it is thirty five per cent and if we look at heroin the Netherlands
that's one per cent life time heroin user among those young kids and in
the UK it is three per cent.
CHRIS DAVIES: The first step should be
to decriminalise both for the possession of cannabis and the social supply
of cannabis. We need to separate soft drugs and hard drugs and I'm concerned
that the approach being taken by David Blunkett of saying yes, cannabis
will no longer be an arrestable, cannabis possession will no longer be
an arrestable offence, but the supply of it will still be rewarded with
a maximum sentence of fourteen years' imprisonment, actually leave cannabis
users in the hands of the heroin dealers instead of establishing the separation
which is so successful in Holland.
WATSON: The Jellinek Institute
also test drugs such as ecstasy; I asked if this didn't simply encourage
BLANS: If I was the parent of a
sixteen year old boy and I knew that the guy was using ecstasy sometimes,
I would rather be very, very happy when he goes and has his pills tested
and see what quality that it is, and what - how much milligram is in it,
and is it wise to take them.
WATSON: There's an increasing number
of advocates for the Dutch approach to drugs back home in Britain; recently
the all party home affairs committee of MPs didn't simply back the reclassification
of cannabis, it wanted to see ecstasy downgraded too
BRIDGET PRENTICE: We decided that ecstasy should
be reclassified from class a to class b. Probably the main reasons for
that are that it's a drug that people seem to take at the weekends and
then go about doing their normal lawful business during the week.
If we really want to get
the message across and we do seriously, want to break the drug culture
in this country, then we've got to distinguish between drugs such as cannabis
and ecstasy and hard drugs such as heroin and crack cocaine. That way people
might actually believe the message and might start taking the message very
WATSON: But back in the Nottinghamshire
coalfields, families whose lives have been blighted by heroin aren't interested
in what they see as a metroplitan agenda to downgrade so called soft drugs
- they want a clear message sent out that drug taking is wrong.
MATTHEWS; They still think deep
down that the drugs themselves, people are not meant to take that sort
of thing and live lives like that. It's got to be wrong, they need to
carry on with the laws strong against any type of drugs.
WATSON: But there are those who
say that the only way addicts will seek treatment is if the fear of prosecution
is removed, and that bringing even the hardest of drugs such as heroin
within the law will save lives and end the dependency of drug users on
DAVIES: I favour legalisation of
everything. I favour getting rid of prohibition, but within, within a,
within a different frame work, the question then would be okay, well say
heroin is legal but but where can you buy it, and the object that er, the
object should be to undermine the criminal dealers.
That pillar of the establishment, the Economist magazine, last
year had a special feature on this subject and they concluded by saying
that if we legalise all drugs, which they advocated, then the result could
be, was likely to be an increase, a small increase in the use of drugs
but a significant fall in the number of people who died or came to harm
as a result of taking those drugs. Now if that were to be a consequence,
it is one I could live with.
MANN: For those people haven't
got a clue what's going on in the real world in my community, here heroin
addicts are injecting eight times a day. It's five pounds a bag for heroin.
They have to therefore get fifteen thousand pounds of criminal income
to feed their addiction. Heroin is cheaper than prescription drugs, and
therefore if you legalise heroin, they're actually going to have to pay
more money therefore they're going to have to steal more money to feed
their addiction. People who are suggesting legalising drugs are looking
at it from totally the wrong perspective and it's not a message that anyone
wants to hear in my community.
WATSON: The Bassetlaw delegation
is determined that their call for zero tolerance of all drugs will be heard
at the heart of Government. Their report will make David Blunkett's softer
line on cannabis use more politically difficult to implement. Ministers
are giving John Mann a warm welcome, but behind closed doors they will
be studying research which soberly questions whether the continued criminality
of both soft and hard drugs is the most effective way of discouraging drug
use and ultimately of saving lives.