CANNABIS - MEDICINE OR MENACE: ‘It’s time we tried a different approach’

Chief Constable Mike Barton, who was with Lancashire Police for 28 years and was Preston's Chief Supt and is now heading Durham Police
Chief Constable Mike Barton, who was with Lancashire Police for 28 years and was Preston's Chief Supt and is now heading Durham Police
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Police and researchers have differing views on cannabis. As part of our ‘Cannabis: Medicine or Menace’ series, Investigative Reporter AASMA DAY talks to police chiefs and academics for their views.

“If alcohol and nicotine were invented today, they would be controlled drugs because they are mind altering and they harm people.”

If you were to ask any cop in the country which substance they think is the most mind altering and dangerous to communities, they wouldn’t pick cannabis, cocaine or even heroin – they’d say alcohol.

Chief Constable Mike Barton, who was with Lancashire Police for 28 years, was Preston’s Chief Superintendant and is now heading Durham Police, has controversially called for the decriminalisation of hard drugs. He explains that his views are not about wanting drugs legalised, but calling for an honest debate.

He says: “If you were to ask any cop in the country which substance they think is the most mind altering and dangerous to communities, they wouldn’t pick cannabis, cocaine or even heroin – they’d say alcohol.

“That is not to say I am advocating banning alcohol, but I am questioning why we should continue banning everything and demonising certain products.”

Mr Barton says his argument centres around the decriminalising of addicts and giving them access to controlled drug rooms where they can take substances in a restricted environment.

He explains: “My argument is that if people are addicted to drugs, they are going to keep on doing it.

“So I think we should make sure they are taking drugs in a controlled environment.

“If not, they could get things like HIV or hepatitis. Anti-viral drugs can cost £80,000 a year.

“What I am saying is: Shouldn’t we try something different?”

Chief Constable Barton, who began walking the beat in 1980 and left Lancashire Police in 2008, says: “I am labelled as some sort of crazy liberal cop, but that is far from the truth.

“I joined the cops to lock up bad people and to make communities safe.

“However, I have spent 35 years locking up drug dealers and things are no different from when I started. The drugs problem hasn’t gone away – in fact it is getting worse.

“Every day, we are finding cannabis farms in our area. You have to send four or five officers minimum and you have to lock up the farmer and seize the drugs.

“The reason we are doing this every day is because there is a market for cannabis. But we are not stopping cannabis with these raids. We might make the community feel a bit better but I am taking officers away from things like child sex exploitation and robberies.”

He added: “The solution for all this is above my pay grade. But my view is that we should listen to people and have a debate about the drug laws instead of pillorying them.

“Portugal has decriminalised cannabis and crime has gone down, health has got better and drug use has gone down.

“In Colorado, USA, cannabis is now legal. I am not sure that is the model we should go down as it feels like a free-for-all.

“But I do think that it is going to become increasingly difficult for the UK to have a total ban on substances when states in America have made them totally legal.”

In today’s cannabis invstigation we also talked to Former Lancashire detective Mick Gradwell and Professor Philip Murphy, head of psychology at Edge Hill University - read their views here.

Prof Philip Murphy on why he is against the legalisation of cannabis for use recreationally, but believes there is political confusion which has hampered it being used to produce beneficial medication

Former Lancashire detective Mick Gradwell: ‘If doctors are prescribing things, it’s a medical issue, not a police one’