Drugs expert calls for classification overhaul

THE current drugs classification system was last night labelled “a muddle” by a leading Suffolk addiction expert who also called for it to be scrapped.

Illegal drugs are currently divided into three categories – A, B or C – with offences involving class A substances attracting the most serious punishments and fines.

But Chip Somers, founder of Bury St Edmunds-based drug and alcohol addiction charity Focus 12, called for the existing system to be scrapped because in many cases the categorisation of a drug bears little relationship to its impact on health. His suggestion came in the wake of controversial calls yesterday by a leading doctor for the decriminalisation of illicit drugs.

“The classification system needs to be scrapped and started again,” said Mr Somers, whose charity Focus 12 has helped high-profile stars Russell Brand and Davina McCall.

“There’s a tremendous muddle in people’s minds in understanding the legislation’s relationship with safety. “Ketamine, which is producing really problematic issues for young people, is a class C drug while ecstasy, which is generally safe if used in small quantities, is class A.”

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Mr Somers did not agree with Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, the former president of the Royal College of Physicians (RCP), who callled for drugs to be decriminalised.

Mr Somers warned such a move would put the state at risk of “colluding” with a “poor lifestyle choice”.

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Sir Ian, however, said: “There’s a lot of evidence that the total prohibition of drugs, making them totally illicit and unavailable, has not been successful at reducing not only the health burden, but also the impact on crime.

“I’m trying to take a fresh look, as many people have done. There is a strong case for trying a different approach.

“I’m not saying we should make heroin available to everyone, but we should be treating it as a health issue rather than criminalising people.”

Sir Ian said while decriminalisation was a “difficult word”, he was “in favour of at least having a look at putting a regulatory framework around illicit drugs rather than a blanket prohibition”.

Suffolk police declined to comment on the issue stating it was merely there to enforce the law.

Nicholas Green QC, chairman of the UK Bar Council, said: “A growing body of comparative evidence suggests that decriminalising personal use can have positive consequences – it can free up huge amounts of police resources, reduce crime and recidivism and improve public health.”

A Home Office spokesman said: “Drugs such as heroin, cocaine and cannabis are extremely harmful and can cause misery to communities across the country.

“The Government does not believe that decriminalisation is the right approach.

“Our priorities are clear: we want to reduce drug use, crack down on drug-related crime and disorder, and help addicts come off drugs for good.”

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