Criminal Law

Part of Theft from Shops (Use of Penalty Notices for Disorder) – in the House of Commons at 5:19 pm on 11th March 2009.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Paul Holmes Paul Holmes Liberal Democrat, Chesterfield 5:19 pm, 11th March 2009

I am grateful for that, but some confusion remains. If we go back to the original debate on the statutory instrument in January, we find some discussion of different types of cannabis took place—there is cannabis, but there is also skunk, for example, and they are of very different strengths. After the seizure of cannabis on the street on a dark night, how can a police officer identify it at first glance and say whether it is skunk or a less strong and thus less dangerous form of cannabis? As I have said, considerable confusion is evident: is cannabis a class B drug or not, and is it to be treated as a low-level offence or not? The whole issue seems to be riddled with inconsistencies.

None of that is surprising, given the Government's approach to cannabis and their policy on upgrading it to a class B drug. The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, which comprises 31 scientific experts, including pharmacologists, psychologists and the whole range, is in a position to provide the Government specifically with expert and impartial scientific advice. It said overwhelmingly that there was no case for upgrading cannabis to a class B drug, but the Government went ahead anyway, just as they went ahead in the opposite direction by not downgrading ecstasy from a class A to a class B drug, which the same advisory council had said should be done.

This is not the way to make criminal policy or drug policy, as it is simply using legislation as a press release or as a means of getting tabloid headlines, which are a short hit with the voting public, but have no effect whatever on what happens in real life. We see a parallel example in the Policing and Crime Bill, which increases the fine for possessing alcohol in a prohibited public place. It is currently £500 and it is to be increased to £2,500, but nobody has ever been fined more than £250 and most people do not pay it anyway. It is pure grandstanding and pure headline making rather than serious criminal legislation or serious drug policy.

Many people were disappointed by the Government's decision totally to ignore the overwhelming scientific advice on cannabis. When the Phillips report on the BSE disaster was produced, there seemed to be a general acceptance among politicians and the Government that, in future, public policy should be based on proper scientific research and evidence rather than a political knee-jerk reaction and whim.

Embed this video

Copy and paste this code on your website