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Britain Revises Drug Possession Guidelines

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Britain Revises Drug Possession Guidelines

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Britain Revises Drug Possession Guidelines

Britain Revises Drug Possession Guidelines

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The British government unveiled a set of guidelines Wednesday on the amount of drugs a person can possess without being charged for dealing. The amounts are surprisingly high. John Steele, crime correspondent for the Daily Telegraph, discusses the new guidelines.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

In Britain, the Home office, the equivalent of our Justice Department, is highlighting drug policy this week. In the course of doing so, they've apparently made some interesting judgments about illicit drugs, personal use and the presumption that one is a drug dealer. The Home Office is setting limits, quantities of various drugs, and if you're caught with a quantity more than that, you're out of luck claiming that it was just for personal use. So how much is too much? Well, John Steele is crime correspondent for The Daily Telegraph and joins us from London.

John Steele, how much cannabis, how much marijuana, is considered too much to be worth a claim of personal use, according to these guidelines?

Mr. JOHN STEELE (The Daily Telegraph): Four ounces of resin or 17.6 ounces of leaf is what the Home Office are suggesting.

SIEGEL: And how many joints would that make?

Mr. STEELE: Well, it has been estimated that the four ounces of resin, if you're very sparing with the amount, could make up to 500 joints.

SIEGEL: Some critics say this might be guidance to the dealers. As long as we're...

Mr. STEELE: That's the argument...

SIEGEL: Yeah.

Mr. STEELE: ...against setting limits, setting a threshold beyond which you're assessed to be a dealer because the theory is that the dealers will simply carry around slightly less than the threshold and argue that it was for personal use. But one has to understand that this is a proposal; it's a consultation document. And they haven't--the Home Office and the police have made it clear that just because you have less than it doesn't make you immune from prosecution, because if you're regularly caught with slightly less than it, if you have scales, for example, at home, then you could be prosecuted as an alleged dealer.

What has happened, though, what they're suggesting is that in law, if you are caught with more than the threshold, burden of proof will switch to you, and you will have to produce evidence to show that you are not a dealer and that it was for personal use.

SIEGEL: Although that figure of 500 cannabis joints--that is a kind of an eyebrow-raising amount.

Mr. STEELE: It is an eyebrow--I mean, I think it's stretching the amount you--the number of joints to the very extreme limit. For weak joints you could possibly get that number out of four ounces. I'd say you'd have to be quite an expert at parceling it out in the tiniest possible amount.

SIEGEL: There are also guidelines for other--for several other illicit drugs. For example, for ecstasy you report 10 tablets would be roughly the guideline where you'd say above that you'd better explain how you're going to use all those yourself.

Mr. STEELE: Yes. And the suggested thresholds for heroin is seven grams and also for cocaine and crack cocaine, seven grams.

SIEGEL: Another bit of news out of the Home Office regarding drugs in Britain involve drug testing of the people who were arrested. What do they recommend on that score?

Mr. STEELE: Previously, the power of the police to test has been triggered by the charging of somebody; now it's been brought forward a space to arresting. Drug addiction, be it heroin or cocaine and its derivatives, drive property acquisitive crime and they are trying to get a handle on that. They're trying to gauge that and they're trying to divert people who are addicted and who are committing those crimes to fund their addiction, to try and divert them into drug treatment programs. It's all aimed at trying to get people onto treatment programs and off addiction so they'll stop robbing and burgling and stealing things.

SIEGEL: Well, John Steele, thanks for talking with us once again.

Mr. STEELE: OK.

SIEGEL: That's John Steele in London, where he is crime correspondent for the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph.

MELISSA BLOCK (Host): This is NPR, National Public Radio.

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