Submitted by the Church of England
Board for Social Responsibility
1. The terms of reference of the Church
of England Board for Social Responsibility require it "to
co-ordinate the thought and action of the Church in matters affecting
the life of all in society". The Board reports to the Archbishops'
Council and, through it, to the General Synod.
2. The Board warmly welcomes the Home Affairs
Committee decision to hold an investigation into the Government's
drugs policy. We have given evidence in the past to the Runciman
Inquiry into the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. We have also exchanged
correspondence with Mr Keith Hellawell, the United Kingdom Anti-Drugs
Co-ordinator, and discussed the possibility of the Church of England
playing a part in the Government strategy on drugs.
3. Our submission will build on the submission
which we made to the Runciman Inquiry, as well as other submissions
made to the Home Office on criminal justice policy. Details of
many of these can be found on our web site www.cofe.org.uk. There
are four points which we wish to make to the Committee. These
relate to the importance of aftercare; the need for a public debate,
which is as wide as possible; the position of cannabis; and the
prescription of heroin to addicts by doctors under licence.
4. The issue of after-care strongly concerns
us. We welcome the shift in the Government's policy, outlined
in the Second National Plan 2000-2001 of the Anti Drugs Co-Coordinator.
On page 23 the report speaks of a large increase of financial
provision for treatment from 1998-2001, and sets key performance
targets for 2005 and 2008. These are to increase participation
in drug treatment programmes by 65 per cent by 2005, and 100 per
cent by 2008. In our evidence to the Runciman inquiry on 11 March
1998 we said "the problem with funding and aftercare of clients
runs through all the evidence we have received". It is good
to see how far the Government has moved on this issue, but it
is still the case that there is a great shortage of qualified
drug workers, especially in London. We know from personal experience
that many Rehabilitation Clinics are often full to capacity, have
long waiting lists, and are not able to readmit clients if they
relapse in the first few months after discharge, even if they
have in depth knowledge of this client. Aftercare provision is
often mixed, and there is a particular problem with co-ordinating
rehabilitation provision in prison with non-custodial agencies
5. Our second point concerns public debate.
The General Synod held its first debate into drugs in July 1998,
assisted by a report written by an authority in the field, the
Rev Dr Kenneth Leech, who founded Centrepoint in the 1960s. We
have followed up this event by holding debates in the majority
of Church of England dioceses, and by establishing a network for
youth offices and others concerned with the issue. We wish to
encourage as much public debate as possible on this issue, and
therefore support the initiative of one of our Board members,
Professor Helen Leathard in making her own submission. Our own
submission comes to different conclusions from hers, but we wish
to emphasise the need for a far more widespread debate than has
so far taken place. We therefore applaud the decision of the Committee
to hold this Inquiry.
6. Our final two points concern the availability
of drugs. We support the Runciman Inquiry's recommendations on
pages 115-116 of their report that "the possession of cannabis
should not be an imprisonable offence." (Para 77 ii). We
also wish to support some of the cogent argument of Peter Lilley
MP in his Audenshaw Paper 193, where he says that inebriation
is regarded as a sin because it can lead to more serious wrongdoing.
Alcohol inebriation has long been associated with violence in
some cases, and it is possible that cannabis abuse could sometimes
have harmful effects. However that is a matter for personal responsibility,
guided by moral imperatives. Abuse, which is a sin, is not necessarily
a crime: adultery is wrong, but it is not a crime. Murder is both
a sin and a crime, by definition. We believe that it is time to
decriminalise the possession of cannabis, for the following reasons.
It leads to disrespect for the law among young people; it is enforced
in a random manner; there is no link between cannabis and the
use of hard drugs except for a tiny minority, which is a point
Dr Leech has repeatedly made (Drugs and The Church page 17). Indeed
the criminalisation of cannabis makes the association with hard
drugs perversely more likely. Legislation is being used here to
govern morality, and the indication is that it sets up greater
problems in the future. We do take seriously the point that young
people may be encouraged to use cannabis more heavily if this
legislative change takes place, and we believe that even greater
drug education is necessary in schools and with young people.
We therefore support the Runciman Inquiry on the question of decriminalisation.
7. Our final concern is about the free availability
of heroin for addicts under licence from registered medical centres.
This is a technical area, and we are aware of the controversy
in this field. Nevertheless we believe that there is compelling
evidence that some addicts reject methadone for illegally obtained
heroin. We support the call by Release for a greater number of
doctors who are licensed to prescribe heroin. This follows the
success of the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health programme
since 1998 in reducing crime: HIV and hepatitis C; unemployment
and family problems by prescribing heroin to 1,000 addicts. We
recognise that some Christians will only accept an abstinence
policy, but our belief is that tragically is it better to support
a harm reduction programme, even if it accepts the possibility
of long-term dependence.