Conservatives Attack London Marijuana Experiment

July 7, 2008 - 7:03 PM

London ( - The British Conservative Party has condemned a pilot cannabis scheme in south London where police are warning rather than arresting those caught with small quantities of the drug.

The Conservatives say that the plan has been a disaster for the community in the borough of Lambeth and that drug dealers now freely roam the streets.

Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith and home affairs spokesman Oliver Letwin visited the Brixton area of the borough Tuesday.

"Community leaders, local police officers and local residents have all rightly pointed out that this experiment has caused a significant increase in drug dealing of all kinds in Brixton," Letwin said.

"It is clear that this experiment has handed over control ... to drug dealers and their gangs," he said. "Ultimately, this issue is about whether the forces of law and order control an area."

The Lambeth project started last summer, when police officers were instructed to treat cannabis smokers lightly and concentrate on drug dealing, robberies and violent crime.

Robberies in the area decreased by 50 percent from November of last year to April of this year. Cannabis use may have increased however - police statistics show that police confiscated cannabis from three times as many people in the first five months of 2002 than were arrested for possession of the drug during a similar period last year.

Despite the Conservative criticisms, the plan has been praised by some police officers.

Last month, Deputy Commissioner Ian Blair of London's Metropolitan Police said the project was "undoubtedly" a boost to law enforcement.

The Conservatives are hoping to put pressure on the ruling Labor Party's plans for drug law reform.

Government officials are expected to announce on Wednesday whether cannabis will be downgraded from a Class B to a Class C drug throughout the country.

In Britain, possession of Class B drugs is punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine, while the maximum penalty for Class C possession is two years. If the downgrade is approved, police officers would also no longer be able to arrest those caught with small amounts of marijuana.

A parliamentary committee has already recommended downgrading the drug. The Times newspaper reported that Home Secretary David Blunkett, who will make the final decision, would go along with the downgrade but double the maximum Class C penalty for dealing marijuana from five to 10 years in prison.

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