Marijuana rocks British government

British Home Secretary David Blunkett’s proposal to loosen the country’s cannabis laws is shaking the British government.
With Blunkett set to announce his desire to change the country’s Misuse of Drugs Act to reclassify cannabis into a less severe category, England’s “drug czar,” Keith Hellawell, has resigned, saying that the new policy is a terrible mistake.

Anti-marijuana forces from across the political spectrum, including some community leaders in the London suburbs of Lambeth and Brixton where an experimental pot tolerance police scheme has been conducted in the last year, have mounted late resistance to Blunkett’s proposals.

Hellawell gave in his resignation on July 10, 2002.

“I don’t know where [Blunkett] got his advice from,” Hellawell said, referring to studies and input Blunkett received when determining the new policy proposals, “but he hasn’t got it from me.”

Hellawell is a former police chief. He had been appointed by the ruling Labour government as drug czar, but had increasingly seen his hardline views supplanted by the views of Blunkett and others, who favor medical cannabis legalization and a move to make cannabis a non-arrestable offense in most circumstances. Blunkett is also instrumental in the cannabis medicinal extracts licensing process that is being conducted by GW Pharmeceuticals.

Hellawell joined a rising chorus of cannabis critics who claim that the Lambeth-Brixton experiment resulted in more crime, and that the dangers of cannabis are being underestimated. He said that cannabis has become the drug of choice for young people and that more and more people were having medical and psychological problems caused by cannabis.

According to the now-former drug czar, the Home Office Advisory Council that recently recommended cannabis reclassification admitted that cannabis use could be linked with use of harder drugs.

The Council’s report, which backed Blunkett’s reclassification call, nevertheless reported that, “We accept that cannabis can be harmful and that its use should be discouraged. We accept that in some cases the taking of cannabis can be a gateway to the taking of more damaging drugs. However, whether or not cannabis is a gateway drug, we do not believe there is anything to be gained by exaggerating its harmfulness. On the contrary, exaggeration undermines the credibility of messages that we wish to send regarding more harmful drugs.”

Hellawell described Blunkett’s new policy as political “spin” designed to win popular appeal for Labor amongst younger voters, and said it ignored clear warnings that cannabis is bad for people and that reclassifying it would lead to more health and crime problems.

“Why on earth, when there are these problems, we change our message and give a softer message I don’t know,” Hellawell complained, adding that implementing Blunkett’s proposals means that England would be leading the world in moving towards “full decriminalization of cannabis.”

Blunkett and the Blair government have been put in a difficult position, with Blunkett apparently backing off of plans to make cannabis a completely non-arrestable offense, and Prime Minister Tony Blair defending Blunkett’s approach against hostile members of his own party and the opposition Tory party.

The Home Secretary is now expected to announce that cannabis will be reclassified, but that police officers will still have the right to arrest people for it if they believe that cannabis use is negatively affecting the public good.

Blunkett has also apparently decided to increase the penalties for selling marijuana, and to retain strict penalties for cultivating it for commercial purposes.

Cultivation and distribution of cannabis for non-commercial purposes will be treated less severely under the likely Blunkett plan, with non-commercial growers and those who give cannabis away without compensation likely to only face charges of “simple possession.”

Nol Van Schaik (left) and Colin DaviesNol Van Schaik (left) and Colin DaviesThe new plan, which can only go into effect after a lengthy consultation period that will push its implementation date to 2003 at the earliest, rejects calls for a Dutch-style cannabis coffee shop system.

Such rejection is not a surprise for cannabis campaigner Colin Davies, who along with Dutch coffee shop guru Nol Van Schaik opened England’s first official marijuana shop last September.

Davies consulted with local police before opening his shop, and has made no attempt to hide the fact that he believes that imitating the Dutch system is good for medpot patients, recreational users, police, and the public.

Davies, Van Schaik, and his allies have repeatedly been arrested and harassed by Stockport-Manchester police and prosecutors, who have used brutality, lies and covert surveillance to attempt to close the Stockport pot shop, which is called The Dutch Experience.

Davies vowed he would never close the shop, and was thus sent to prison without trial last December. He was released in late May pending a trial that was supposed to have taken place in June, but his release conditions included ludicrous rules such as a prohibition on communicating with his friends or being in his own home. Secret police spy cameras reportedly caught Davies entering his home, and he was re-arrested, beaten during court appearances last week, and sent back to prison.

Davies’ supporters from across Europe have mounted ongoing street protests in Stockport, some of which have resulted in more police brutality and arrests.

“Colin is in a lot of pain, and the police are wasting huge amounts of money and time arresting non-violent people at a time when the national government is moving away from cannabis prosecutions,” Van Schaik said from his home in Haarlem, Holland, where he runs three coffee shops. “They recently admitted that they are going to be spending incredible sums of money to prosecute street protesters who were caught with a joint, and the effort they have put into harming The Dutch Experience has been totally beyond all comprehension. It is obvious that the police and prosectuors are harming England far more than marijuana ever could.”

Van Schaik, who has been arrested and risked imprisonment in England for his efforts to help Davies keep the Stockport pot place open, says that Colin is a disabled single father of two young children whose commitment to cannabis is an inspiration to campaigners across the world.

“He absolutely and completely believes that there is nothing wrong with what he is doing; he feels he has nothing to hide,” Van Schaik said. “The judges and police expect him to apologize and agree to stop doing this, but he is willing to go all the way for this cause. We need more people with his courage, strength and dedication.”

A hearing on whether Davies will remain in prison until his trial is expected later this week.Nol Van Schaik (left) and Colin Davies

For updates on the Dutch Experience, go to website and click on the Dutch Experience button.