HL Deb 04 February 1971 vol 314 cc1394-419

4.46 p.m.

House again in Committee.


May I resume the discussion in the Committee stage of the Misuse of Drugs Bill, and perhaps in a more calm and reasonable tone than when we left off, by reminding the Committee that we are not, on these Amendments, discussing whether cannabis should be legalised? I am on record as having said that I am opposed to the prohibition of cannabis, but I do not intend to burden your Lordships this afternoon with Amendments or arguments in support of that view. I recognise, as I am sure Lord Foot recognises, that there is a very substantial body of opinion, in this House and outside, to whom that prospect would be quite abhorrent. So I am now going to speak on Lord Foot's Amendment which concerns the classification of cannabis and whether that classification is properly made.

The Amendments in my name and in the name of Lord Foot were made possible because of an innovation made in the Bill which I wholeheartedly support; that is to say, that dangerous drugs are being classified according to the degree of harm which they are thought to generate. With the 120-odd drugs in the three Schedules, many of them with wholly foreign and unpronouncable names, one can reasonably assume that the allocation to particular categories has been made in the light of current medical knowledge; but, so far as cannabis is concerned, if one looks at the current medical knowledge one is driven to the conclusion that the allocation to Class B has been made in the light of popular prejudice rather than of scientific opinion.

May I now respond to the invitation extended by the noble Lord, Lord Foot, by saying that I wholeheartedly support his Amendment—though I have a feeling that what he is putting forward may be too radical for the Committee to accept. I hope that I am wrong. But what can be accepted, and indeed demonstrated, is that the present allocation of cannabis to Class B is wholly misplaced. If that is accepted, then I am glad to leave it to the Committee to decide whether they accept (as I would in support of the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Foot) the creation of a new class, Class D, or whether they consider it simpler to down-grade cannabis from Class B to Class C. Those are Amendments in my names at a later stage on the Order Paper—because, either way, it is a compromise with the view certainly held by me. But it would be a major step forward toward a more sane and reasonable attitude to, this problem.

There is one point on which I disagreed with Lord Foot. That was when he said that there was no consensus among experts about cannabis. Our basic case for not placing cannabis along with amphetamines in a category where the penalties for trafficking and possession are are almost as high as those for heroin and other harmful drugs is that when we study the reports and scientific papers we find that there is a consensus. I accept at once that at present too little is being done, and that much more needs to be done. But there is a consensus that there is not yet any proper evidence that harm is done by the consumption of cannabis in moderate doses over a long period. There is a consensus that it is rare for cannabis to be taken in large and excessive doses. There is a consensus that the moderate use of cannabis does not in many cases lead to chronic use or to the use of other drugs. And there is even a consensus that even with chronic use the harm is of a wholly different order from that arising from the chronic use of heroin or the other really horrifying drugs.

At the risk of wearying the Committee, I feel it is necessary, when we are considering how to classify a particular drug, to study some of the research that has been done. I hope that both the Committee and the Government will recognise that this is a decision which should not be made on the basis of anybody's views or prejudices, or preconceived opinions, but in the light of what the experts have to say. In my analysis of the vast body of literature which is available on cannabis there are four outstanding officially commissioned Reports of high importance. The first goes back a long way. It is the Report of the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission of 1894. This was a monumental Report, covering seven volumes and 3,281 pages. When it was unearthed from oblivion in the United States in 1968 by a number of scientists studying the problem of drugs, it was stated by one member: This investigation is by far the most complete and systematic study of marijuana undertaken to date. It is both surprising and gratifying to note the timeless and lucid quality of the writings of these British colonial bureaucrats. The 1894 Commission concluded: Viewing the subject generally, it may be added that the moderate use of these drugs is the rule, and that the excessive use is comparatively exceptional. The moderate use practically produces no ill-effects. In all but the most exceptional cases, the injury from habitual moderate use is not appreciable. The excessive use may certainly be accepted as very injurious, though it must be admitted that in many excessive consumers the injury is not clearly marked. The injury done by the excessive use is, however, confined almost exclusively to the consumer himself; the effect on society is rarely appreciable. It has been the most striking feature of this inquiry to find how little the effects of hemp drugs have obtruded themselves on observation. That is a condensation of the findings of an inquiry which came to the same conclusion as the inquiry under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lady Wootton of Abinger.

The next major milestone in official inquiries into the effects of cannabis use was the inquiry of the Mayor of the City of New York, Mayor La Guardia, into marijuana use in the City of New York in 1944. Again the inquiry was made by a highly authoritative body set up to inquire into the various aspects of marijuana use. They also did research on the basis of experimental tests on subjects smoking marijuana. Their conclusion was: There is definite evidence in this study … that marijuana users … had suffered no mental or physical deterioration as a result of their use of the drug. From the study as a whole it is concluded that marijuana is not a drug of addiction comparable to morphine, and that if tolerance is acquired, this is of a very limited degree. I stress that I am not citing these Reports in an attempt to obtain the legalisation of cannabis. It is an attempt to demonstrate that the more one reads these Reports, the more one believes that cannabis should be regarded as in a class by itself among the drugs that we are considering in this Bill.

The third inquiry, which has been frequently referred to, was that made by the Sub-Committee of my noble friend Lady Wootton of Abinger. That Sub-Committee, in turn, endorsed the conclusions of the two Reports I have just cited. Their conclusion, written 24 years after the Mayor of New York's Committee report, was: Having reviewed all the material available to us we find ourselves in agreement with the conclusion reached— by the two Commissions I have mentioned— that the long-term consumption of cannabis in moderate doses has no harmful effects. Again last year, in Canada, another memorable and authoritative inquiry was carried out by the Le Dain Commission of Inquiry into the non-medical use of drugs. They again reviewed all the evidence available and again came to the conclusion that, so far as the short-term effects were concerned, these were negligible. So far as the long-term effects were concerned, they urged caution. They urged continued prohibition, but they were unable to produce hard evidence to rebut the conclusions that I have already referred to. So much for the officially commissioned research and inquiry.

If one goes to the individual scientific experiments—and of course there are not enough of them—one sees the same pattern. One authoritative and most meticulous experiment was conducted in 1968 by Weil, Zinberg and Nelsen with controlled tests on marijuana smoking subjects. Their conclusion was: The near-absence of significant physiological effects makes it unlikely that marijuana has any seriously detrimental physical effects in either a short-term or a long-term usage. Although, as I said, there have been regrettably few similar experiments, there has been no evidence forthcoming, either in the United States or here, to rebut that conclusion.

The last piece of research to which I wish to refer, and perhaps the most surprising, is that done by Crancer in 1969. That was a study of the effects of marijuana on driving skills. Some subjects were given no drug at all, some had a high dose of marijuana given to them and others were given a high dose of alcohol. Astonishingly, it was found that those with alcohol had a very high degree of error but that the errors committed by those with marijuana and those who had nothing were almost exactly the same. They do not suggest that it is safe to drive on marijuana, and they emphasise that this conclusion should be regarded with caution and that more research needs to be done. But (and I think it was the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, who raised this point) it is perhaps remarkable to note that initial tests carried on in this field show that there does not appear to be a pronounced danger even if someone is foolish enough to drive with cannabis inside him.

The sum total of these reports might lead some people to say what a remarkable pastime this is; how much more desirable than alcohol or tobacco, and at what little social cost it appears to be generally used. But that is not the issue in this debate on this Amendment. The issue is whether we have correctly classified cannabis along with amphetamines in Class B. One cannot ignore the remark able conclusions that expert after expert has come to.

But when one compares those conclusions with the conclusions reached on the use of amphetamines, then we are talking about proven harm of a wholly different magnitude, because, of course, the category of drugs in Class B are amphetamines. The non-injectable amphetamines are the drugs we, and the young people, are asked to regard as being on the same level as cannabis. On the use of amphetamines, there is no need to say much. It is, first of all, clear and proven that there is a marked tendency for people who start taking amphetamine pills to take more amphetamine pills and to go on from there to take amphetamine intravenously.

The Le Dain Committee studied amphetamines also and concluded that, particularly when amphetamines are taken, as it were, for "kicks", there may be shown a considerable sensitivity to tolerance, and individuals who either began using the drug to obtain these effects, or who acquired the taste for them after initially using amphetamines for other purposes, generally show a marked tendency to increased dose over time. What is the result of increasing a dose over a time? It is frightening indeed. I quote again from the Le Dain Report: The clinical picture of the chronic 'speed freak' is a distressing one indeed. Continued use leads to a considerable weight loss, sores and use of massive doses of amphetamines often non-healing ulcers, brittle finger nails, tooth grinding, chronic chest disorders, liver disease, a variety of hypertensive disorders, and in some cases, cerebral haemorrhage. I hope I need say no more to show the Committee that with amphetamines one is talking about an horrific danger; and yet we are asked to accept that amphetamines should be classed along with cannabis as a Class B drug, carrying the penalties which have been referred to.

I apologise to your Lordships if I have gone on too long in quoting what is to me irrefutable evidence, not of the harmlessness of cannabis but of our blindness and our wilful rejection of medical knowledge in categorising it as it is proposed to do in this Bill. I do not ask your Lordships to pay heed to my opinions as a champion of the younger generation, which I self-confessedly am; but I do ask your Lordships to consider whether in the light of all the evidence (and the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham must tell me if I have distorted it, but I do not believe that I have) one can maintain this classification. I would ask the noble Lord when he replies, both to Lord Foot's Amendment, and next week to mine, to carefully consider whether he is able to justify the present categorisation by any medical reasons. I would ask him, perhaps next week, having taken time for reflection, whether I have fairly summarised the available scientific knowledge in respect of cannabis. I would ask the Committee to look at these Amendments not in an emotional way, but in the light of reason, and to accept the Amendment put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Foot, or, at least, if that is going too far, to pay the greatest care to the Amendment that appears later in my name on the Marshalled List.

5.4 p.m.


I should like to express a sense of real shock at the suggestion which is now being made to your Lordships, that we should go soft on this question of cannabis. Along with others who have been in the Middle East, where I spent some years of my life, I know that it is common knowledge that this is really a disastrous drug. Its misuse (and who can be sure that anybody who uses it will not subsequently misuse it?) leads to the most extraordinary delusions. It is not for nothing that the word "assassin" is derived from the word "hashish". It is common knowledge in the Middle East that people who get too much of this stuff inside them go absolutely berserk.

That is not the only objection to it. You can say the same about alcohol. The real objection to cannabis was made, I think, by the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill: it is that this drug is a pathway along which people fall into the stronger drugs. It is not only a danger that people who take this drug get in the habit of taking a "trip". That is the first point I want to make. It is quite true that some of the physiological effects are not necessarily so demonstrably bad as with some other drugs, but there is with this drug a psychological addiction to the habit of taking a "trip". Once people get that habit they very easily take to other drugs in order to take "trips": and, anyhow, the taking of "trips" gets more frequent and somewhat worse.

It is not only the point about taking a "trip". Because if you go soft about the selling of this drug, you will find that many of the most immoral commercial pushers of it mix other drugs in with it which are much more addictive, being confident thereby that the hapless victims will have to come back to them, whether they like it or not, to get more and more of the stuff and pay more and more exorbitant prices. This commercialisation of drug pushing is something that we must stop in our community, and I think that this Bill tends to do it very well. But I do not think it will be done effectively if we "go soft" about the categorisation of cannabis. Therefore, I strongly recommend that we should reject this Amendment and keep cannabis in the category where it is now.

I do not want to prolong this debate, but we have heard a good deal about scientific research. It so happens that I have a close relation who leads a team of researchers into the drugs problem at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. The advice that I have given to your Lordships would certainly be in accordance with what the leading Swedish researchers would say on this subject. Although I cannot give it its proper scientific terminology in every respect, I know enough about science to assure your Lordships that I am not talking through my hat.

I want to say one other thing. The experience of Sweden, and for that matter the West Coast of America, ought to cause great hesitation to anybody who thinks about going soft on the question of cannabis. They have the most appalling problem. A year ago, when I was in Stockholm on a previous occasion, the town was covered with notices. They were huge white notices with a black cross in the middle, and underneath there was a series of names like "Iren" or "Jan", or some such name, horn so and so 1952, died so and so in 1968, and underneath: "Narcotics took her (or his) life". These were all young people of less than 20, and often down to 14 years of age. This is a terrible problem, and I think it is high time that we took it seriously. I recommend that we should not be less severe than the provisions of this Bill.

5.10 p.m.


I had not intended to intervene in this debate on the misuse of drugs because I felt that interventions would better come from my physician colleagues. Like other speakers, I am disturbed by the proposed Amendments to the Bill which are directed towards the liberalisation (or, as the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, states, "going soft" on it), by several methods, of the use of cannabis. We have already had mention of growing it in one's garden, and I notice that a following Amendment relates to the cultivation of cannabis and suggests that it should be allowed to be grown in the garden or on the farm. I find it difficult to decide on which particular Amendment I should speak. However, I felt it was best to come in fairly soon in the proceedings, although there are later Amendments which I find even more disturbing.

I associate myself strongly with the views expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill. It is implied that cannabis is not a harmful drug and that it is so benign that its use should not be restricted. We have heard a lot of pseudo-scientific evidence put forward to that effect.


If I may interrupt the noble Lord—


Order, order!


It is suggested that the present robe of permissiveness should cover its use. The whole of this drug taking business is bad and miserable. We are dealing with evil things; let us have no doubt about that. There was a time when it did not constitute a problem in this country; the number of addicts were few and not increasing, but that is no longer so. This pernicious and foul disease has attacked this country and is spreading. Make no mistake about it, it is firmly here. It is as if plague, cholera or rabies had secured a firm footing, were endemic and about to become epidemic. Drug-taking is now endemic and in danger of becoming epidemic. We succeed in keeping out rabies, cholera and other such diseases, and we should be alarmed if they became established in this country; but drug-taking is no less dangerous a disease.

Few addicts start on hard drugs. The commoner process is to begin on the less maligned ones, usually as a result of being introduced to them as "a lark", as a thing to do, often at a "pop" festival or some other occasion. Now it is suggested that the House of Lords should make it easier for that to be done. If the young person continues on soft drugs there is a strong chance that he or she will progress to hard drugs, and he or she is then lost. That is the point that the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, has emphasised. I know of virtually no cure. Some individuals—perhaps 5 per cent. or 10 per cent.—may escape the disaster that embraces them, but those are occasional exceptions. The majority just remain addicts, with all the miseries that that entails, until they die, and that can happen swiftly in the young.

We have, again, had examples that this drug-taking affects very young people. My hearts bleeds for the parents of a young man or a young woman who has been caught by this foul business. Their despair and unhappiness must be very great. I am sure that there are many parents who are sadly afflicted in this way. This desperate and disastrous sequence from soft to hard drugs ought to be avoided at all costs. Nothing should be done to aid these young people to start their career of disaster and to encourage or make the initial step easier. We all know the great problems that exist in the case of tobacco smoking and how difficult it is to give up the habit. With a world picture of drug-taking before us it is being suggested that we should liberalise, go "soft" on this access to cannabis. This is pure folly. We should be careful not to encourage our young people to set their feet on the slope that leads to so much sorrow for so many people. We should reject this Amendment and others like it which possess the same dangers.

5.15 p.m.


I rise to ask some questions which I hope some noble Lords who are doctors, and also the Minister, may be able to answer. Some of the speeches I have listened to seem to have gone rather far from the original Amendment. As I understood it, it was not to liberalise the taking of cannabis to the point of legalisation, although one or two people have said and implied that. As I understand this Amendment, it is that cannabis should still be treated as an illegal drug; it should still be subject to penalties, but it should be put in a special class. This is my dilemma: I can see the arguments of both sides, but it is rather odd (and perhaps I may have some elucidation on this) that cannabis should be put in with the other drugs. I confess that I do not know what many of them are, or what they do, nor why cannabis is particularly a bed-fellow in one category rather than in another.

Information on this point would assist many of us so far as concerns both this particular Amendment and also the later one which wants to put cannabis in Class C. I feel—and I hope I am right—that other noble Lords, like myself, are certainly not in favour of the legalisation of cannabis, but are concerned about the way in which it is dealt with and the penalties its use receives. We are also concerned about the category into which it should be put. It is true that the recommendation by my noble friend Lady Wootton in the Report of her sub-committee was that there should be special legislation on cannabis. That has not happened and, presumably, that is why this matter has arisen on this Bill. But I wonder why it is not possible to make that compromise and have a special category for cannabis, but with penalties. That, again, is very far from making cannabis legal.


Perhaps I might explain to the noble Baroness that the reason for the recommendations from the Cannabis Committee to which she has referred was that only this drug was referred to the committee for consideration. This was at a time when the then Government had not indicated any intention to produce a comprehensive Drugs Bill. Had that intention been known, I am sure that my Committee would merely have asked that cannabis should find its appropriate place in such a Bill.


I had not intended to speak at this time in the debate, because I shall be speaking to certain other Amendments later, but as my noble friend Lord Brock has pointed out that his physician colleagues do not seem to be giving him full support, although I am, as my noble friend Lord Brock has said, a physician, and a Member of your Lordships' House, nevertheless I want the House to understand that I do not have any special experience in dealing with drug addiction, for that experience does not come very much the way of a professor in internal medicine in a University Department. So I should not want your Lordships to look upon me as a great authority who knows more about this subject than the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton, the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, who has been most careful in his study of the reports on cannabis, or, indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Foot.

I should go a very long way with the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, in saying. "Why do we not say, 'cannabis is a different drug' although for the moment we may hold varying views on its seriousness?". In this I am all with those who do not want to make it easier for the cannabis pushers. Why do we not say that it is a different drug, that it is not of the same kind of class as those to which it is being classified? Why do we not give it a classification of its own? I would possibly agree with this course were it not for the fact that we are classifying drugs according to what is considered to be their dangers.

Nowhere in this Bill, so far as I can see (I have just been looking through it again), does it say that drugs are being so classified. The only reference is in the Explanatory Memorandum, which is not part of the Bill. Nevertheless, this is of course implicit if in fact the penalties for the mishandling of a certain class of drugs are very much greater than the penalties in respect of another. Therefore the objection to what the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, is suggesting at the moment seems to be that if you put cannabis into a separate class—Class D—and then make the penalties very much less than for Class B, you are in fact saying that this is not such a dangerous drug.

I wonder whether it is too late in the course of this Bill to take a compromise view. I should not like your Lordships to think that in any way I am compromising by saying, "Cannabis is harmless; I do not mind if we legalise it", and so on. I do not take that view at all. I go all the way in trying to prevent the use of cannabis from spreading. But I wonder whether we could not put it into a different category because it really belongs to a different category. If you like, I would agree to making the penalties for possessing cannabis less than those for the possession of certain other drugs. But we should have a very stiff penalty for the offence—it is set out in line 20, on page 38: Having possession of a controlled drug with intent to supply it to another. This should bear a heavy penalty. If that were so, I think I would probably support the idea that we should put cannabis in a separate category.


As my name is on the Amendment put down by the noble Lord, Lord Foot, I would just say that I think the question of putting cannabis into a separate category is an essential factor. I will not go over what has already been said. We have heard a great deal on the scientific angle, and everything else. But in the horrific world of drug taking, if we get cannabis into a separate category there is a possibility that the people who, for instance, are smoking cannabis will not then come into contact, through the pushers and other channels, with the hard drugs. This is an important factor, and for this reason (the others having already been stated) I support the noble Lord, Lord Foot.


I have not any great knowledge of this subject—either of the use or of the misuse of drugs. I am very much in support of what the noble Lord, Lord Platt, and the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, have said: that cannabis should be in a different category; but I am also very frightened when I remember a conversation that I had with a member—a medical member—of the Committee of the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger. He told me that there was no question that in the case of patients he had had to look after who were addicted to drugs, all those on hard drugs had started on such things as cannabis.


I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lady, but there was no other female member of my Committee, and I think this cannot have been a member of my Committee.


I did not say female.


I beg the noble Lady's pardon: I understood her to say "she".


I said "a medical man". I beg your pardon. That is my only reason for feeling that cannabis should be put on a lower level than it has been put. But I feel that to put it in a class by itself makes it seem as if it is not nearly so important as it really is.

5.25 p.m.


It may be for the convenience of the Committee if I speak at this stage, as it has been arranged that the Committee stage shall conclude at six o'clock. The noble Lord, Lord Foot, will no doubt wish to come in again at the end of the debate on his Amendment and advise your Lordships on whether or not he intends to press his Amendment. I should like to begin with some general considerations, before going on to the particular reasons why the Government do not think it would be right to put cannabis in a special category.

There is a tendency to consider this whole question in terms of our own society, but the problems raised by cannabis are of concern to many other societies as well. We can all take our own examples from the scientific literature in this country and the reports made elsewhere. But they must, by that act, be selective. There are parts of the reports which back up whatever point of view we wish to put forward. But there are other expressions of opinion that should, perhaps, be given particular attention; namely, international opinions which have been codified in the form of conventions.

The United Kingdom Government are a party to the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and this requires control to be maintained over the distribution of cannabis. Moreover, we are a member of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs which continues to urge Governments to increase their efforts to eradicate the abuse and illicit traffic in cannabis; to promote research and advance additional medical and sociological information regarding cannabis; and effectively to counter any publicity which advocates legalisation or tolerance of the non-medical use of cannabis as a harmless drug. I refer to the resolution of the 22nd Session of the Commission in 1968. The World Health Organisation has assessed the harm to society derived from the abuse of cannabis as resting in the economic consequence of the impairment of the individual's social functions and his enhanced proneness to forms of anti-social behaviour.

In this country, the Advisory Committee on Drug Dependence set up a Sub-Committee in 1967 to examine the whole question of the misuse of cannabis. I referred on Second Reading to the Report of the Sub-Committee, presided over by the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton. It was, as noble Lords know, a very controversial Report. It was also, I am inclined to think, one that has been misunderstood more than a large number of other specialist reports of the kind. It did not say that the use of cannabis was without danger to health. It did not recommend that cannabis should be legalised. On the contrary, the Sub-Committee recommended that restrictions should be maintained. They felt that the penalties were too high; and that is a point to which I shall return in a few moments.

Two extracts from the Report, both short, are particularly to the point at this stage. On the impairment of the cannabis user's social function—that was the assessment of the World Health Organisation to which I have just referred—the noble Baroness's Sub-Committee commented: Accurate scientific knowledge is lacking of the personality of those who habitually use cannabis, of the significance of the circumstances in which it is used, and of the psychological, physiological and social consequence of long-term use". That is in Paragraph 73. The second extract (in Paragraph 62) concerns the risk to health: It is not possible to say that long continued consumption, medically or for pleasure, of cannabis, or indeed of any other substance of which we have not yet had long experience, is free from possible danger. The analogy of tobacco and alcohol was mentioned, earlier in the discussion on this Amendment, by the noble Viscount, Lord Norwich; and this is often said. But it seems to me that the really significant difference is that the use of cannabis is not socialised; that it is not accepted by law or convention as a normal part of social life. Alcohol is so accepted, and experience shows that once a habit has become socialised it is extremely difficult to eradicate. For support of that proposition, we can look to what happened in the United States of America in the case of Prohibition. Even when it is proved that a substance is harmful to health, if its use has become socialised it is very much harder to stop. If what we know to-day about tobacco and the proven causal connection between cigarette smoking and lung cancer had been known in the early years of this century, when cigarette smoking became common, the habit might not have spread and much suffering might have been avoided.

My second comment would be that if the use of cannabis is accepted as not being a matter as serious as the use of other drugs which do not have a therapeutic application, cannabis use will become "the done thing" for a much wider section of society. It is not only young children who imitate their elders: many others imitate the behaviour of those whom they admire, and we already know only too well the dangers of the weak personality and the emotionally deprived person who drift into using drugs because they see others, who may have the strength not to be harmed, doing so. The weak personalities and the emotionally deprived may not have the strength to limit their use of drugs to moderate amounts.

My third comment on this aspect of our debate is on the very great difficulty of distinguishing between the use of cannabis and other drugs. I see, as the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, used to see when he was at the Home Office, cases of people who have got into trouble for a number of reasons. In some of these cases drugs are involved, and over and over again one sees that the drugs involved are multiple. There is some cannabis, there is some LSD, there is another drug. It is very seldom that it is only one drug. Once the habit is there, the desire to experiment, which is very strong, particularly with LSD, has to be borne in mind.

Let me move on now to the question of penalties and to the points raised in debate by the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, the noble Lord, Lord Platt, and the noble Lady, Lady Ruthven of Freeland. It is not possible to distinguish between and to discuss the principle behind these Amendments without considering their effect, and their effect is on the level of penalty that offences are to attract. The is the significance of the three categories that Class A, Class B and Class C attract penalties of a different level.

Let us consider for a moment the present position. I am afraid it is somewhat complicated, but a knowledge of it is essential for an understanding of the problem. The present position is that cannabis, together with a certain number of other drugs, is controlled under the Dangerous Drugs Act 1965. The maximum penalties for any offence relating to cannabis are, on summary conviction, a fine not exceeding £250 or imprisonment for not more than 12 months, or both; and, on indictment, a fine not exceeding £1,000 or imprisonment for not more than 10 years. The Sub-Committee of the Advisory Committee on Drug Dependence concluded that these penalties were too high and should be reduced. The previous Administration did not accept the levels proposed by the Sub-Committee, but the effect of scheduling cannabis as a category B drug in the present Bill is that the various offences involving cannabis are distinguished.

Where the offence is under subsections (2) or (3) of Clause 4, or subsection (3) of Clause 5—and these are the clauses of the Bill which establish offences that amount to trafficking—the penalties are still very heavy, and indeed in some cases have been increased to as high as 14 years. The later Amendments that have been set down by the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, will give us an opportunity to debate these, and it will certainly be an important part of the Committee's deliberation to discuss the whole level of penalties, including the ones with which she is particularly concerned at the upper end of the scale.

Where, however, the offence is having possession of a controlled drug, which is covered by Clause 5(2), the penalties involving imprisonment will be less than they are today. On summary conviction, the maximum penalty will be a fine not exceeding £400 or imprisonment for not more than six months, or both; and on indictment, a fine of an unspecified amount or imprisonment for not more than 5 years, or both. It will be seen that in the case of imprisonment—and this is probably what is worrying most noble Lords—the maximum terms of imprisonment available to the courts under this Bill for offences involving simple possession of cannabis have been halved, as regards both the magistrates' courts and the higher courts.


Before the noble Lord leaves that point, it is right, is it not, that in regard to the supply and production of cannabis the penalty in fact goes up from 10 years to 14 years?


Yes; the noble Lord may not have quite followed what I was saying. I hope I made it clear, and it will be in Hansard tomorrow. The Bill distinguishes—as the present law does not—between conduct which amounts to trafficking in drugs and possession of drugs—and by "possession" we often mean the use of a drug. There are three offences which amount to trafficking which we will come to later in the Bill, and, as I have said, the penalties for trafficking are high and in some cases, as I mentioned just now, will increase from 10 years to 14 years. But in the case of simple possession of cannabis—that is the individual user who is in possession of the drug—what I have said holds good. As regards imprisonment, the penalties on indictment and on summary conviction have been halved. There has therefore been a reduction in penalty, but we do not think it is right to go any further than that. That is the reason why I cannot advise the Committee to accept this Amendment.


Is it not a fact that cannabis smoking is almost always a communal activity in which the joint is passed from one person to another, and that this in fact amounts to having possession and control of the drug with intent to supply it to another, so that in virtually every case the "pot" smoker would be liable to the maximum term of imprisonment of 14 years?


This debate is a wide-ranging one and we are drawing towards the end of it. We are going to discuss each of these offences when we come to the various clauses of the Bill. We are in Committee, and let us debate the offences amounting to trafficking when we come to them. For the time being, let us stay with Lord Foot's point. I am making the point that the consequence of accepting his Amendment would be to reduce still further the penalties for the possession of cannabis, and we do not think it would be right to go as far as that.

I must remind your Lordships again that the Bill has been the subject of very careful study by two Governments of opposing Parties. It has received two Second Readings in the House of Commons; it has had an extensive examination in Committee in the House of Commons, although the proceedings in the Committee were not concluded before the General Election, and it had a second examination in Committee there before it came to your Lordships' House. At no point in those discussions was there a Division on penalties. Differing opinions were expressed, as one would expect, but at no stage did anyone feel that public opinion was so strong or that the merits of the case were such that they required the penalties for possession of cannabis to be reduced.

I should point out, finally (because I am anxious to leave the noble Lord with enough time to say what he wants to say before we come to a decision), that the allocation of cannabis in the Bill to Class B is not permanent. Many noble Lords have said that we need to know more about cannabis, to find out more about its effects on personality and on health; and this is undoubtedly so. Once this Bill becomes law, the Home Secretary will be able, on the advice of his Advisory Council that will be set up under Clause 1, to move any drug up or down in the existing three classes, or indeed out of the Schedules altogether. There is power under the legislation to do that. I think I have said enough to explain that in the Government's view it is not possible to advise your Lordships to accept this Amendment.


It had not been my intention to speak on this Amendment at all but rather on that which seeks to eliminate Clause 6, which I equally hope will be rejected by your Lordships most emphatically. Although I, mercifully, have no experience of the effect of cannabis in this country, I know something about its use and abuse in one of the countries where it is produced and which is one of the main sources of supply for the trade over here; that is to say, Jamaica, an island I know very well indeed. In the local Press there, hardly a week passes without one seeing an account of some crime being committed—murder, culpable homicide, rape or violent assault—by someone under the influence of cannabis, there known as ganja. That happens the whole time. As the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, said, there are various ways of administering it. Over there it is usually smoked, and there unscrupulous dealers, as here, sometimes cut the drug by mixing grass or some other innocuous herb with it. It is also chewed in the way plug tobacco used to be, and still is to some extent, in this country. It is sometimes inhaled in the form of snuff and also, I think, taken in the form of injections. The fact remains that the use of cannabis in Jamaica is a most deleterious thing and is something which, if it spreads in this country, will lead to even more suffering than has been the case up to now.

The noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, has, I think, completely demolished the arguments in favour of it. I must say I am surprised that the whole attitude of the noble Lord, Lord Foot, and his supporters seems to be, "When you see evil, do not resist." Surely, they must read the papers and the many accounts, well authenticated, of the appalling suffering inflicted, particularly on young people and their families, in this country. In my opinion there is no reason for any relaxation in the regulations, and I hope that the Government will push through this Bill and your Lordships will reject with contumely all Amendments which seek to modify it.

5.45 p.m.


May I begin, in reply to this debate, with the matter to which the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, alluded at the end of what he had to say, when he remarked that we need not worry very much about putting this drug cannabis in Class D because it is always open to the Secretary of State at some future date to put it up or down in the categorism. I think that argument is a misleading one, though not intentionally so, for this reason. If you put the penalty for the drug too high in the first place, it becomes almost impossible at any future date to get it reduced, because as soon as you try to do so you get people like the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, getting up and saying, "You are going soft on cannabis". It is an argument that is constantly used. If you put the penalties too high in the first place, it is almost impossible in the future to get them reduced; but if you put them low in the scale, and if it turns out, as a result of future research, that cannabis has some harmful quality, some possible long-term quality and effect, which we have not yet discovered, it will always be possible to raise cannabis in the level of offences.

I do not want to attempt to reply in any sort of detail to all that has been said in this debate, but it would be fair to say that, starting with the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, the two arguments that have been raised against my proposal are these. The first is, as she put it, that we must beware of what we do because we do not know what the effects of cannabis are. And the second one was the assertion—and it was repeated by the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, and the noble Lord, Lord Brock—that use of cannabis leads on to the use of hard drugs, and in particular heroin. I think I could most usefully apply myself to those two matters. With regard to the first, that we should beware of what we do about cannabis because we do not know what the effects are, we have not yet had sufficient research, and so on—


May I interrupt? I think the noble Lord is a little confused. I was quoting him when I used that argument. Those were the last words he used, and I quoted him.


That is precisely my point, because I was just going to say that I agree with the noble Baroness. I do not dissent from that expression. Indeed', that is what I have said from the beginning. I hope we can consider this matter unemotionally. The basic principle of the Bill is to try to put drugs in three or more categories according to their known harmfulness. Suppose that you have a drug which is separate from every other drug in this way, that you do not know whether it is harmful or in what circumstances it is harmful, is there not an overwhelming argument for creating a separate classification for that drug, because it has that particular property? It is a property which, so far as I know, is not shared by any of the drugs in Categories A, B or C. Therefore, when I propose that there should be a separate classification for cannabis, I am not departing from the principle upon which the Bill is constructed. Indeed, I am going along with it.

In that matter of principle I was glad to have the support of the noble Lord, Lord Platt. He said that he thought there was something to be said for the principle, but that he certainly would not agree with some of the penalties that I was prescribing in my later Amendments, particularly for production and supply. As I said at the beginning, I am not dogmatic about these penalties and I hope that at this stage we shall not be drawn into a discussion about the penalties that I propose; but I shall be quite willing to listen if the noble Lord will go along with me in carrying the principle which I advocate. I shall be only too pleased to discuss later on whether I have the penalties right or whether the penalty for some particular kind of offence in connection with cannabis may be too low.

To me it seems logical from the principles of this Bill that on the Government's own argument there ought to be a separate classification for cannabis. It is not going "soft" on cannabis, because if the House accepts the general principle it will be perfectly possible in due course, when they come to consider cannabis, for us to resolve what are the appropriate penalties for the various kinds of offences in connection with it.

Before I leave this matter, perhaps I should say one word about an argument which was addressed to us by the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham. He was talking about different people who are led into the use of drugs and things of that kind, and he spoke particularly of the weak character who engages in the use of cannabis because he is an inadequate person and is unable to resist the temptation which may be put before him. I would ask the noble Lord this question: Does he really believe that that weak, inadequate character will be prevented from starting on the use of cannabis because this Bill says that he might go to prison for five years? Does he really believe that that sanction in the background really operates upon characters of that kind?


That was not my point. My argument was that if we encourage the more widespread use of cannabis, if we start on a process of socialisation, it is the weak and the inadequate who suffer most.


The noble Lord's premise is that if we start upon a process of making cannabis acceptable, or of socialisation, then we are in danger of bringing these weak characters into contact with it. I am not recommending that. I am not recommending legalisation. I am recommending that this should remain a crime, that it should remain an offence. I am not advocating the wider use of cannabis. Far from it. What I am advocating is that when we are dealing with cannabis where no harmfulness has been demonstrated, we ought not to attach to it penalties which are entirely inappropriate to the crime in question.

May I turn to the other argument which has been raised by a number of your Lordships, that the use of cannabis and the introduction to cannabis leads on to the use of hard drugs, in particular heroin. This was asserted by the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, by the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, and by the noble Lord, Lord Brock. But in each case it was an assertion, and you can find many quotations to the contrary if you look through the records—some of them have been given to us by the noble Lord, Lord Gifford. If I may quote from the report to which I think the noble Baroness was referring when she spoke on this subject, the report of the United States Health Education and Welfare Department, published only a couple of days ago—


My quotation was taken from the report of the Mental Health Committee.


This is the report compiled by the National Institute of Mental Health of the United States Health Education and Welfare Department. I do not know whether it is the same report from which the noble Baroness quoted an extract. But let me quote from it on this matter of whether cannabis leads on to heroin. Concerning drug dependency the report says this: It is generally conceded that marijuana use does not necessarily lead directly to the use of other drugs. We can all produce quotations about that.

Perhaps I may in passing quote what was said by the Wootton Sub-Committee on this same subject. This is the result of the investigation and the research which they carried out. These are not assertions; this is their summary of the evidence, and in paragraph 51 they say: It can clearly be argued on the world picture that cannabis use does not lead to heroin addiction. So far as the United Kingdom is concerned no comprehensive survey has yet been made, and a number of isolated studies have been published, none of which demonstrate significant lines of progression. Our witnesses had nothing to add to the information already available, and we have concluded that a risk of progression to heroin from cannabis is not a reason for retaining the control over the drug. That is the conclusion of this Sub-Committee which, after all, went into the matter in great detail.

I would ask the Committee to do two things. I would ask them to put into one scale the unsupported assertions that we have had from the noble Baroness and noble Lords, to the effect that cannabis leads on to the harder drugs, and the conclusion arrived at by the committee in America and that which was arrived at by the informed Sub-Committee headed by the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton. This matter has been debated over and over again. There are, of course, strong arguments both ways. It is partly a matter of instinct whether you think that the use of cannabis in fact leads on to the use of the harder drugs.

But I suggest that we are in danger of falling into an error of principle.

As I said at the beginning, the whole of this Bill is based upon the principle that you should try to categorise drugs according to their level of harmlessness. Surely it would be a complete break from that principle if you were to put cannabis, which is not demonstrably harmful, into a higher category, not because it is harmful in itself but because somebody asserts that it leads on to heroin. If you were Ito do that, then there might be an argument for putting some amphetamines into a higher level because they, too, may lead on to the use of heroin. If we are going to work upon the principle of categorising drugs according to their level of harmlessness, let us stick by the principle and not try to avoid the issue by saying that one drug is to be condemned, not on its own account, not for its own sake, not for what it does, but because it might, in the belief of some people, lead on to something else. I see that our time is coming to an end. I feel that the principle of this matter ought to be tested, and I would therefore carry the matter to a Division.

6.3 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 1) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 23; Not-contents, 116.

Airedale, L. Burgh, L. Henley, L.
Amherst, E. Burntwood, L. Kilbracken, L.
Amulree, L. Byers, L. Listowel, E.
Avebury, L. Cooper of Stockton Heath, L. Montagu of Beaulieu, L.
Harrington, V. Faringdon, L. Platt, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Foot, L. [Teller.] St. Just, L. [Teller.]
Birk, B. Gifford, L. Stamp, L.
Brockway, L. Gladwyn, L.
Aberdare, L. Chester, L. Bp. Eccles, V.
Aberdeen and Temair, M. Clwyd, L. Elliot of Harwood, B.
Amherst of Hackney, L. Conesford, L. Emmet of Amberley, B.
Amory, V. Cottesloe, L. Falkland, V.
Ardwick, L. Craigavon, V. Ferrers, E. [Teller.]
Ashbourne, L. Cranbrook, E. Ferrier, L.
Auckland, L. Cromartie, E. Fortescue, E.
Audley, B. Daventry, V. Gage, V.
Belstead, L. Davidson, V. Garnsworthy, L.
Berkeley, B. Delacourt-Smith, L. Goschen, V. [Teller.]
Beswick, L. Denham, L. Gowrie, E.
Brock, L. Derwent, L. Gray, L.
Brooke of Cumnor, L. Diamond, L. Greenway, L.
Brooke of Ystradfellte, B. Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Greenwood of Rossendale, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Drumalbyn, L. Grenfell, L.
Carrington, L. Dudley, E. Gridley, L.
Grimston of Westbury, L. Merrivale, L. Sherfield, L.
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. (L. Chancellor.) Milverton, L. Shinwell, L.
Molson, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Hankey, L. Monk Bretton, L. Somers, L.
Hanworth, V. Mowbray and Stourton, L. Stocks, B.
Hawke, L. Moyle, L. Stonham, L.
Hives, L. Napier and Ettrick, L. Stow Hill, L.
Hood, V. Northchurch, B. Strabolgi, L.
Howard of Glossop, L. Nugent of Guildford, L. Strang, L.
Hurcomb, L. Nunburnholme, L. Strange of Knokin, B.
Ilford, L. Phillips, B. Sudeley, L.
Inglewood, L. Rankeillour, L. Summerskill, B.
Janner, L. Rhyl, L. Swanborough, B.
Jellicoe, E. (L. Privy Seal.) Rockley, L. Tenby, V.
Kilmarnock, L. Ruthven of Freeland, Ly. Teviot, L.
Leatherland, L. St. Aldwyn, E. Teynham, L.
Lindgren, L. St. Davids, V. Thorneycroft, L.
Longford, E. St. Oswald, L. Vivian, L.
Lothian, M. Salisbury, M. Wakefield of Kendal, L.
Loudoun, C. Sandford, L. Waldegrave, E.
Lucas of Chilworth, L. Sempill, Ly. Windlesham, L.
Mancroft, L. Serota, B. Wise, L.
Mansfield, E. Shannon, E. Wolverton, L.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Clause 2 agreed to.

House resumed.