Growing pressure for ‘dated’ drug law

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A YORKSHIRE chief constable and leading authority on drugs has warned simply trying to ban legal highs awash on the region’s streets is failing to address the problem and has backed calls for an overhaul of the country’s dated laws.

Humberside chief constable Tim Hollis, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) lead on drugs, admits the law cannot keep up with the unprecedented tide of legal highs being churned out onto the streets.

Despite a high-profile all-party parliamentary group currently looking at a major reform of drugs policy alongside a home affairs select committee inquiry at which Mr Hollis gave evidence, he says political will is insufficient to decriminalise “conventional drugs” such as heroin and cocaine.

But Mr Hollis, who retires next year, warns the explosion of legal highs – stimulants sold over the internet with their chemical compounds constantly tweaked to avoid being defined as illegal – means the “rivets are now rattling” on the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act.

He says simply trying to impose blanket bans on drugs such as MCAT or mephedrone, which was made illegal in April 2010 after being linked to several deaths, is a flawed approach.

And he claims new solutions are needed to tackle the “depressing” cycle of addicts reoffending and going through the courts.

“Mephedrone is now a classified drug and there is increasing pressure to add to that list, but I argue what are the benefits?” he said.

“It is no longer a legal high, it is now an illegal substance. But once it is made illegal it does not solve the problem.

“It may send out a message, but all the evidence is it doesn’t solve a problem. The idea that making a substance illegal is the only show in town is flawed. It’s not sustainable and therefore society has to look at other ways of looking at that problem.

“We need to look at wider methods of education and prevention rather than simply turning to the old habit of making it illegal.”

Many legal highs imported from China are made using chemical formulas developed by the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies and published for scientific research.

The explosion in use has been attributed to internet availability, with Mr Hollis citing one recent example where a Facebook group organising a party was set up online with a link to a website where people could buy legal highs.

The ease with which people can buy the drugs means they are also widely used in more rural areas.

“In 1971 we didn’t have social networking,” Mr Hollis said.

“If it was illicit drugs being used for whatever reason it was passed on by word of mouth - it was very local.

“But of course today it is not difficult using social networking and all the rest to get information on drugs and where you can get them.

“The legislation is 40 years old and has stood the test of time. But the reality is the world in which we now inhabit, particularly with communication over drugs, legal or illicit, was never dreamt of in 1971. I welcome a well-informed debate. Legal highs, inevitably, are a complete new kid on the block. They are being developed very rapidly.”

His comments come as former Deputy Prime Minister Lord Prescott, who is campaigning to become Humberside’s new police and crime commissioner, this week called for a major drugs summit in the area.

Figures obtained from the region’s primary care trusts have revealed more than 6,400 problem drug users in Hull, North Lincolnshire and North East Lincolnshire, with the East Yorkshire city the highest area in the region with 3,700 alone. Heroin remains the drug of choice, with 68 per cent of those in treatment using it.

“That constant trail of the same people through (the courts) is depressing actually,” Mr Hollis said.

“We will always endeavour to do it but is it the solution to put them back before the magistrate yet again?

“It’s a bit patchy at the moment but it is already there –agencies getting together to come up with long-term solutions to reducing reoffending. I think there are some really good initiatives starting to emerge from that reality.”

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