Cannabis debate, October 2001

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The Crime Forum Meeting held at Drake House Wimbledon on 2nd October debated the motion, ‘Should Cannabis Be Legalised?’ The panel was:

Inspector Stephen Grainger, Wimbledon Police
Michael Harrison, The Cranstoun Drug Project
Dr Mohammed Abu Saleh, Dept of Addictive Behaviour St. George's Medical School
A Representative from the Merton Youth Forum
At the beginning of the meeting when a vote was taken it was a straight 50:50 split, but by the end of the evening, after discussion, questions and addresses from the panel the vote was slightly in favour of the legalisation of cannabis.
The meeting was chaired by Peter Davis, and the Chairperson of the Crime Forum, Saleem Ullah Sheikh MBE, was also in attendance. The panel consisted of four speakers, and was truly representative of varying views. It was interesting to hear the views of a Police Superintendent, Stephen Grainger who is responsible for law enforcement and the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act in Merton., He described the need for us all to take stock of where we are in today’s society, with changed social and moral values, the criminal justice system, and the differing emphases of both crime and health issues in the matter. A psychiatrist, Dr Abu Saleh, a specialist in addictive behaviour from St. George’s Medical School, addressed the meeting and gave us the many medical reasons against the legalisation of cannabis, and instanced the dangers for those vulnerable mentally ill people in our community who risk triggering schizophrenic episodes and carcinogenic illness. He talked convincingly about the need to consider the long term issues of cannabis use, and said that we are in the early days of development of positive mental health in the population. Cannabis can be a relaxant for users, as in the same way alcohol can provoke a more aggressive response in some drinkers. Voluntary organisations which have campaigned over the years, since the 60’s and 70’s for legalisation of the drug, may still feel their message is valid today, but medical knowledge has moved on and we were told in detail about physical and mental distress which can be induced by medically unsupervised use. Of course the case for prescription for cannabis for the medical condition of multiple sclerosis is now well known.

Perhaps it is now time to shift the balance of power away from criminalising users, to extending the promotion of a good healthy lifestyle amongst vulnerable people, and particularly those with addictive type behaviours. Drink, drugs, sex, work – all have the potential to manifest our addictive tendencies. We need to all work together to break this cycle of deprivation and addictive type behaviour. Crime has become a health issue and all the regulatory bodies of the criminal justice system need to work together with health, social services, the courts, lawyers, police and the various support groups for vulnerable groups working with the young people, the mentally ill, the socially disadvantaged who find themselves homeless or perhaps out of work.

It was pointed out that huge sums of money are spent on ‘crime’. What is the result? Prisons full up, many out of work adults, homeless and vulnerable young people and ‘at risk’ groups in the general population like young children, teenagers, those with young children and the older isolated members of our society. Account needs to be taken of the valuable lives that are being lost, the young people who are at risk from the drug pushers, and the consequences of possibly developing addictive ‘hard drug’ habits. There is a need to work with the Merton Youth Forum. We also need to alert parents and other carers to the dangers of drug use, as they may be ignorant of the problems. Schools, school nurses, doctors, primary care groups and trusts, along with community psychiatric nurses need to be aware of the issues and choices facing the young people in our education system today.

The meeting can be summarised in the following points and overall it was a very helpful panel, floor and group discussion:

Organised crime and drug gangs are an international problem, often present on our streets in London, and this needs to be dealt with harshly by both society and the international criminal justice system.
It was argued that we need to target our resources most acutely on the young people, to strongly support them at this early stage in their development, in their formative years of education.
Medical and health issues are prominent and the emphasis on addictive behaviour seems to hold the key to confronting the core of the problem. Doctors have a key role here in dealing proactively with the addictive behaviour of individuals. A medical speaker at such public meetings as the Forum is indeed a public service contributing to the future health of the nation.
Society needs to deal with the social and economic deprivation all around us. Social workers, community legal services, lawyers, police officers, the criminal justice system, all need to work with housing regeneration schemes, social landlords, new build groups and architects, who will in the long term help us design the environment of the future.
In the immediate short term, we need to plough our resources into supporting those vulnerable adults who have succumbed to continuing pressures of deprivation, and resourcing rehabilitation and treatments for people in need. We also most urgently need to prioritise and extend our patchy, completely inadequate child protection work, so that children and young people up to the age of 18 years become our priority.
A middle term objective can also be to take preventative action, through adoption of a proactive approach to addiction, promotion of positive health campaigns and bringing in the overdue socio-medico approach to tackle these difficulties, instead of criminalising individual users, or any further growth of the victim culture.
Monies spent on Drug Tsars, prisons, and other aspects of the criminal justice system need to be reviewed by parliament and redirected to local communities for responsible regeneration and social development in partnership with the vital involvement of community health services.

ACTION

WCF Manager to meet with Nigel Egglestone manager of the Youth Awareness Programme in Merton on 31 October.

LATEST NEWS

David Blunkett announced on 23 October 2001 that cannabis is to be downgraded from a Class B to a Class C drug. The Police will lose the power to arrest the 90,000 people a year who are currently charged with possession offences. The Home Secretary also gave his firmest indication yet that he will license the medical use of cannabis to treat Multiple Sclerosis and other illnesses when research trials are completed.

Meeting - Crime Forum - 25 January 2001

Peter Davis chaired a Crime Forum on 25 January 2001, at which the Panel consisted of Andrew Nicholson, Director of Legal Services at Wimbledon Magistrates Court, Chief Inspector Alan West, Borough Liaison Officer, and Saleem Sheikh, Chairman of the WCF Crime Forum. About 35 members attended an excellent and wide-ranging discussion.

Each panellist was initially asked to identify a few major issues of current concern to start an open discussion. In summary these were:

Although Merton was a low-crime area the level of domestic violence incidents was high.
Street crime and robberies involving young people and mobile phones were increasing.
Racially aggravated crime was increasing and steps were needed to counteract it.
Inconsistency of sentencing was a problem
The courts are being reorganised and will lose their "local justice" flavour on becoming part of a London wide organisation.
All police officers have an important liaison role.
Media concentration on "bad news" has contributed to a climate of fear.
In general discussion a number of topics were covered, including:

Young people
Problems arising from congregation of young people outside Centre Court.
Need to tackle transport operators rather than schools to solve a problem which is not the schools' responsibility. We need dedicated transport (buses) but this takes resources. Strong feeling that we are inclined to "discriminate" against young people and assume they are in the wrong. Youth has human rights too! They should in principle be allowed to congregate wherever they like.
Perception and the media
The perception of crime makes us all fearful and when crime is committed by a member of our community against our community we are all victims. The media overstate the bad news and create fear for commercial gain. We ought to have press at the Crime Forum. Naming and publicising criminals may help. What about a community website for this purpose or can we use the Civic Forum website?

SENIOR CITIZENS

Concern about crime against senior citizens is not justified by the statistics. It is largely a question of fear, which affects the elderly more. Police can advise the elderly on prevention measures such as wide-angle door spy holes.
Domestic violence
Domestic burglary is declining but domestic violence is up. Need for more information about action being taken in this area. Concern that court reorganisation may prevent "sympathetic" and speedy handling of these cases. Need for specialist courts for domestic cases. This might be justified after the courts become a London wide organisation.
Police resources
Administrative burden and paperwork are preventing police from policing. Most of the paper is to help accountability and for other agencies. Pay is inadequate to recruit civilian staff to remove burden from police officers.
Future of Crime Forum
Suggestion to broaden the scope and change the name not really favoured. A concentrated discussion on a wider range of broadly crime-related issues would be favoured. Focus on specific issues in more depth and have wider range of speakers. Examples could include legalising cocaine, proliferation of alcohol outlets and the anti-social results (and the related licensing and appeal process), work of the probation service, a theoretical/academic view of crime and punishment, domestic violence and support available, racial crime, graffiti. We need to have the authorities (LBM, MP, transport operators or others) present to answer suggestions and thus avoid everyone blaming everyone else. Better reporting back required of what we have done and what has been achieved as a result of Forum discussions.

PAD 29 January 2001

THE MACPHERSON REPORT - ONE YEAR ON

London's police force now has an computer-led intelligence network which is "the envy of security systems around the country," John Grieve, deputy assistant commissioner of the Met. told a meeting of the Wimbledon Civic Forum last week.

Mr Grieve, who heads the Met's task force on racial and violent crime, told a meeting of the Crime Forum that in the wake of the Stephen Lawrence murder, more than 70 separate intelligence systems across London had been linked into a single operation. "We can access and analyse information faster than any other system in the country - and all that as the result of a race-hate killing" he said. And Mr Grieve claimed that the police's popularity across the country remained undented in spite of reports of rising crime levels. "Public opinion surveys showed the police scoring better than most professions in the country. "I know of no other policing system as open and accountable as we are" he said. "We are the envy of some pubic companies."

But he accepted that many problems lay ahead. Policing was "a difficult, dangerous and murky job" - and with 2,000 staff short, "we have insufficient police officers on the streets of London."

That message was re-iterated by Merton's new divisional commander Chief Supt Stephen Thomas. He warned the Forum "If you want an officer on every street corner or an officer walking down your road every day, you are not going to be satisfied with the service I can give you. I've got 285 police officers, 202 constables, and I simply can't give you that level of service - despite the fact that I would probably want to."

Mr Thomas said Merton led the crime performance league table in London with burglaries down 21 per cent last year ("531 fewer people coming home to find their house had been burgled") and vehicle crime down by 15 per cent. And up to June this year, the borough's crime figures were showing a still further overall decline.

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