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Cannabis: Lord McCluskey urges decriminalisation

The Scotsman, Fri Oct 11, 1996

Judge and police chief clash over hard line on drug laws

Cannabis: Lord McCluskey urges decriminalisation

By: Robert Wright, Home Affairs Correspondent

Two of Scotland's most senior law enforcement figures fell out publicly last night on the issue of cannabis.

The chief constable of Lothians and Borders, Roy Cameron, was attacked by one of Scotland's most senior judges, Lord McCluskey, after the police chief made a speech firmly opposing any drug laws. Mr Cameron had referred in answer to questions after his lecture, Drugs and the Community, to parallels between the conditions created by Britain's present drug laws and the US experience of prohibition. But the chief constable had rejected comparisons, saying that he did not believe the same would be possible with cannabis.

From the audience, however, Lord McCluskey stepped into the debate, saying prohibition had created a huge crime culture in the US. He went on: "Interestingly, a side-effect [of prohibition] was that a great number of the citizens turned to cannabis and in one city 300 cannabis cafes opened up.

"The chief constable referred to the lack of research [on drug use]. There have been royal commissions in the United Kingdom, South Africa, France and the States and, comprehensively, they have come to the conclusion that one ought to decriminilise the soft drug cannabis."

For a variety of reasons none of the authorities in these countries had ever taken up the idea. He said: "I would like to know what the basis is for continuing to say that cannabis use is a crime."

"I think we need to distinguish between a drug used by about 50 to 60 per cent of young people from time to time and which has never been known to cause a death. The only deaths caused by the use of cannabis have been caused by the fact law enforcement agencies have sprayed the plants with weedkiller and the users have died from it," Lord McCluskey said.

He also pointed out tobacco was the world's most addictive drug, before concluding: "One really needs a measured look and see whether it's not time to consider moving towards decriminalisation of soft drugs."

Mr Cameron responded: "I would be happy to debate the broader issues of cannabis legalisation but I think I have made my position fairly plain in my address."

In his speech - the annual McClintock lecture hosted by Sacro, a penal reform pressure group - the chief constable had attacked the idea that soft drugs could be part of a normal lifestyle with few side-effects. There was a real prospect that users would slide "from cannabis to chaos", he said.

By contrast, he said the "real life" debate - a point of view which he said was backed up by former addicts and whose message was that drugs harmed the communities - -was compelling.

He concluded by saying: "There is a strong lobby of support to recognise the inevitability of drug abuse by young people and to ameliorate this by the provision of safe advice and back-up facilities."

But there was an opposing argument that it could well be counter- productive to move towards such a stance. If society was convincingly intent on real change in the drugs market, he said, an unequivocal message was essential.