Projects win Drugs Bill reprieve

Mathew Little

Powers to jail charity workers who do not stamp out drug use on their premises have been shelved by the Government.

The Home Office has dropped a controversial amendment to drugs legislation, which charities said would have forced them to operate outside the law.

The Drugs Bill, presented to Parliament in December, repeals an amendment to the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act, which became law in 2001 but remained "unenacted" because of the outcry it provoked.

The amendment gave local police forces the power to prosecute sector workers for "knowingly permitting" any illegal drug use in hostels, day centres or residential homes.

Before the amendment, Section 8 of the Misuse of Drugs Act had only required centre managers to prohibit drug dealing and the smoking of cannabis and opium.

A 2003 consultation on the change elicited warnings that agencies' charitable status was at risk. The voluntary sector's response was so hostile that the Home Office introduced a moratorium on implementation of the amendment.

Now, 18 months on, ministers have finally decided to ditch it altogether.

A spokesman for the Home Office said that the decision reflected the success of new powers to close crack houses and provided reassurance to those in the voluntary sector who work with government. "The Government is clear that those who work in the drug treatment and homelessness sector should not be penalised in engaging and providing services for these hard-to-reach and vulnerable groups," he added. "Good management of premises and services should prevent the use of drugs on premises in any case."

DrugScope welcomed the change of heart. A spokeswoman said: "We have taken every opportunity to push on this issue since the proposals to change Section 8 came about." But many organisations will be disappointed that ministers have chosen not to abolish the Section 8 clause compelling managers of premises to stop the use of cannabis on site. Failure to do so could mean up to 14 years in prison.

Drugs policy consultant Kevin Flemen said: "The prohibition on allowing cannabis smoking ... now seems to be increasingly anomalous."

FACT FILE

- Section 8 of the Misuse of Drugs Act, 1971 requires managers to stop the supply of drugs and the smoking of cannabis and opium

- The Government passed an amendment to Section 8 in 2001, extending it to cover all controlled drugs. But it introduced a moratorium after protests by charities

- The new Drugs Bill repeals the amendment.

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