16 November 2006

Off the Grass and on the Glass

How Police and Home Office Strategy is increasing cannabis risks to young people

The ongoing police Operation Keymer has seen availability of homegrown cannabis drop to an unheard-of low. And there is growing evidence that this reduction in availability has meant new and potentially dangerous adulterants being used to bulk out dwindling stocks of herbal cannabis.

Cannabis users on UKCIA, and other young people are reporting cannabis being adulterated with bulking agents to either make low grade cannabis look like THC-rich skunk, or alternatively to increase weight.

Adulterants have included relatively low risk substances like sugar solution, or sand. But recent reports suggest an increased use of adulterants such as water-retention polymers - which may take the form of small yellow beads or (more frequently) white crystals.

Most worryingly, some users are reporting cannabis is being coated with ground glass, or sprayed with glass fibre. At this point, such rumours are apocryphal and cannot be substantiated. But there is good evidence that cannabis stocks are dropping in qualiy, prices are going up, and remaining stocks are being more widely adulterated.

Neither the Police nor Frank have raised awareness of these problems, leaving young people at high risk.

We would suggest the following harm reduction advice:

crunch test: if it's crunchy it's got adulterants such as sand or glass in it: put a small bit between teeth; if it's crunch spit it out;
rub test: rub a bit between fingers; if it's got a gritty feel - it's adulterated;
best thing to do, probably chuck it but as this isn't likely for most young people, we need to look at other strategies such as:

use in a water pipe
use pipes with screens
use a filter in place of a roach

07 November 2006

Queens Bench Ruling highlights problems of Cannabis Policy

The policing and policy towards cannabis received another blow when the Queens Bench Divisional Court refused a judicial review of a man cautioned for possession of cannabis in his own home. Norville Mondelly (The Times reported) was found in possession of cannabis when the police attended his property by mistake>

Although the aggravating factors that would normally have resulted in arrest were absence, the police initially decided to arrest under Section 8(d) (allowing premises to be used for smoking cannabis) before deciding that there was insufficient evidence to charge for this, and settling instead for a caution at the police station.

Mondelly sought to challenge this, as being contrary to the ACPO policy and guidance. But the court did not find in his favour, stressing that if the policy did constrain police action or make arrest or prosecution impossible, then such a policy would be unlawful.

The case really highlights the worthlessness of the current guidance, providing as it does no protection for individuals, who may believe that they would not be arrested for personal possession in their own home, as that is what the guidance led them to believe.

For the full Times coverage, click here

01 November 2006

Keeping tabs on the Street-count

The time for the annual street-count draws nearer. We have received emails from a number of workers with first hand experience of the count which provide evidence that local provision is adjusted on the run up to counts, to ensure numbers on the night of the count are kept low.

We are aware of one count area where the number of rough sleepers was brought down on the night of the count by the temporary opening of a shelter for a week; a rough sleeper count was brought down from fourteen to one, for the duration of the count.
Several workers are stressing that as more people are removed from city centres, or have ASBOs that restrict their access to City centres, more people are sleeping rough away from main count areas; they are certainly sleeping rough - but not necesarilly visible in street settings.

And there is a growing awareness of the number of economic migrants, and people seeking Asylum who may have had claims rejected who are now sleeping rough too. We are very aware that these groups, caught in a catch 22 where they cannot get benefit or access to many hostels, are especially vulnerable and are likely to be at risk during what looks like being a very cold winter.

If you are aware of any measures that have been used in your locality to push down the count in your locality, please write in and let us know; this may include sudden purges of rough sleepers the night of the count, emergency accommodation being opened.

We will make sure contributions are kept anonymous.

Some very selective hearing....How the Home Office, the ACMD, Science and Technology Committee and DfES all choose to hear only what they want to...

A couple of years ago, the Home Affairs Select Committee recomended that cannabis be moved from Class to Class C. The Home Office rejected many of the Home Affairs Select Committee's recomendations, such as the unequivocal "injecting rooms should be piloted without hesitation."

But, perhaps sensing youth votes or for other reasons, the Home Secretary proceeded to move
cannabis to Class C.

However, daunted by the barrage of criticism from the police and the media, David Blunkett fudged the process of reclassification, changing PACE to make posssession of Class C drugs an arrestable offence and increasing the penalties for supplying Class Cs.

In effect, although Cannabis was reclassified, all the rules about class C drugs were so altered as to make the reclassification virtually meaningless. This confusion was then reinforced by the ill-advised and unevenly ACPO guidance on policing cannabis, soon to be the subject of judicial review.

Blunkett and subsequent Home Secretaries have since come under intense pressure to revise the classification of Cannabis.

Charles Clarke was asked to consider moving cannabis back to Class B. Although his personal opinion was apparently that it should be moved back, he instead put the matter in the hands of the ACMD, and asked if, in light of 'new' research evidence of its impact on mental health, cannabis should be moved back to class B.

If he hoped that the ACMD would give him the answer that he wanted, Clarke was to be dissappointed as the ACMD said that cannabis should remain as a Class C drug. In a clear shot across the bows of the Home Secretary, members of the ACMD made it known that there could be high profile resignations from the ACMD if the Home Secretary simply disregarded their recommendations.

Faced with this, Charles Clarke followed the ACMD's lead, and left cannabis in Class C, but decided that there should be a review of the whole classification system, to ensure that the penalties and restrictions were appropriate and commensurate with risk.

This review was undertaken, as instructed, by the Science and Technology Committee. It reported in October this year, in a report which was highly critical of both the drug classification system and the ACMD. It concluded that the current classification system was not 'fit for purpose' and castigated the ACMD for its failure to highlight the inadequacies of the system to successive ministers.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Home office and the ACMD didn't respond favourably to "Making a Hash of It." The Home Office rejected virtually all their recommendations; the ACMD issues a short, terse response using some very pointed language.

This spat reveals the very real problem at the heart of the UK's drugs policy. It lacks cohesion, direction or an evidence base. It is being pulled in different directions by various parties, rather than having the intellectual and policy foundations shaped by expertise and evidence.

The ACMD should be making recomendations to Ministers, and these should be put before Parliament. It is not for the Home Secretary to pick and choose what measures are, or are not taken forward. The ACMD for example said they recomended against the use of Sniffer Dogs or drug testing in schools. Yet the DfES are continuing to take forward a drug testing pilot in Kent - in direct contradiction of the ACMDs response.

Likewise, in their report on Drug Deaths, the ACMD called for a pilot for drug consumption rooms, a call echoed by the Home Affairs Select Committe and more recently by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

But despite evidence and recomendations from these respected bodies, the Home Office rejected these calls on the most cursory of grounds.

If we are truly to have an evidence-based drugs policy, we should be listening more closely to the ACMD. But in turn the independence of the ACMD should be more carefully protected. We grow more and more concerned that its composition will be more closely controlled and vetted by the Government of the day, and therefore more likely to produce "Government-friendly recommendations." This would be a disaster for policy and practice.

Making A Hash of It - report
ACMD response
Home Office Response