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UK Drugs Czar - taking the emphasis off soft drugs

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Drug Czar orders focus away from soft drugs in dramatic turnaround

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Police trying to crack down on drugs crimes should concentrate on nailing dealers of heroin and cocaine and not get bogged down with those dealing soft drugs, anti-drugs coordinator Keith Hellawell has said. In an interview with the Observer newspaper, Hellawell said it was important to distinguish between so-called Class A drugs and softer substances such as cannabis. "What I have done is lift the stone on the hidden truth about drugs in Britain, which is that we need to discriminate between different drugs and the relative harm caused and then talk openly about the difference we can make," Hellawell said.

Hellawell's boss, Cabinet Office Minister Mo Mowlam, backed the comments but said this did not mean the government thought cannabis should be legalised. "No-one is saying, yet, that cannabis should be decriminalised," Mowlam told ITV television on Sunday. "I never count anything in or anything out but at the moment there is no intention to do so." Hellawell, who was appointed "drugs Czar" by the government two years ago, told the Observer that police were convicting too many people for possession of small amounts of cannabis in efforts to hit drug crime targets. "I am looking for a shift towards those dealing in heroin and cocaine," he said.

A spokeswoman for the cabinet office said Hellawell had not called for any changes to the drugs laws. At present, possession of cannabis can be punished by up to seven years in jail in Britain but long sentences are rarely imposed. The latest Home Office figures indicate that around 500 people were imprisoned in 1997 for possession of cannabis. A recent MORI poll found that 80 percent of Britons supported the relaxation of cannabis laws while only 17 percent believed that cannabis should remain illegal.

E-Dance Summary: That's as close to an open declaration of decriminalisation as we're ever going to get. If you were the cynical type you might come to the conclusion that the police don't have the resources to keep convicting harmless marijuana smokers and thought they'd get some political mileage out of it at the same time. Mo Mowlams comments were encouraging though and it's possibly on her instructions that Keith HellIwill made the comments he did. Whatever the reason, even a twisted cynic like myself can't fail to see it as a result. So for the first time in my life I have to say...well done Keith.

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I want to go out blazing not fade away.

I can resist anything but temptation.

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