23 April 2005

And here's your new Drugs Act

In the dying days of the Parliament, the Drugs Bill, which was being debated in the Lords, was rushed through the last stages of the 'democratic' process and received Royal Assent, passing on to the Statute Book.

The process was a travesty of democratic process. The Drugs Bill had been widely criticised for its inadequacies. It had been castigated on human rights grounds and the Joint Parliamentary Human Rights Committee was particularly scathing in their criticism. http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/jt200405/jtselect/jtrights/47/4702.htm

The Conservatives were broadly supportive of the legislation. Predictably the primary changes they wanted to see made were tougher sanctions and penalties, and so, given Conservative support and Labour backing, it seemed likely that the Bill would be passed.

As time ran short, the Bill could well have foundered before the dissolution of Parliament, especially if the Lords had done their job and given the bill the scrutiny it deserved.

However, with the sort of backroom deals that typify contemporary politics, the Bill was passed in the so-called 'wash-up' period. The Tories had been keen to see the Drugs Bill ammended to include moving cannabis from Class C back to B. This is something that Charles Clarke is privately keen to see, but publicly would be tantamount to a labour party policy U-turn. In order to stall such a U-turn whilst pacifying the Tories and securing the passage of the Drugs Bill, Clarke agreed to refer the reclassfication of cannabis back to the ACMD and seek their advice on the subject.

This face-saving formula placated the Tories, secured the passage of the Drugs Bill and, possibly, leaves the way forward for Clarke to reclassify cannabis if the ACMD makes such a recomendation.

Much of the Drugs Act 2005 cannot come in to force straight away, as it requires subsequent legislation, guidance or changes to regulations. The following sections will not be instantly available:

Mushrooms containing psilocin: these will all become Class A drugs, whether prepared or not. However, additional guidance or wording is required to ensure that landowners who merely have mushrooms growing on their land are not committing an offence. This clause will not come in to force until such a wording is agreed.

Initial assessments and follow-up assessments: this new power means that the police can require any arrestee who tests positive for Class A drugs to attend an initial assesment and, where required, a follow-up assessment. However, these new developments cannot take place until funding is released to pay for the assessors and these will need to be recruited.

It seems likely that this development will curtail, if not spell the end of arrest referal schemes as they are supplanted by these mandatory assessments.

Given their vocal opposition to the Drugs Bill, we assume that Turning Point will refuse to bid for any of the new contracts to undertake assessment and would not be so hypocritical as to condemn the Bill whilst actually receiving funds to deliver aspects of it.

Presumption of intent to supply: This section will mean that people found in possession of quantities of drugs exceeding the "proscribed amount" will automatically be considered to be intending to supply those drugs. These quantities have yet to be decided and need to be approved by parliament. This section cannot come in to force until then.

The only shiny jewel in all this sewage is that the amendment to Section 8 by Section 38 of the Police and Criminal Justice Act is repealed by the Drugs Act 2005. So a piece of legislation that Charles Clarke saw fit to pass to garner votes in the last election is repealed by a piece of legislation to garner votes in this one...plus ca change.

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