E for Ecstasy by Nicholas Saunders
Appendix 1: Reference Section
- 14 Interview with Greg Poulter, advice team leader at Release,
a London information agency for drug users, on 16/2/93
- In the 1970s there was a scare in Britain about hallucinogenic amphetamines
before they had even reached the country. The Government responded by classifying
the entire chemical family as Class A drugs, before any other country had
done so. The Home Office can issue licenses for research into MDMA. There
is no pressure group lobbying to liberalise the law on MDMA, as there has
been for cannabis.
- The maximum penalty in a Crown court for possession of MDMA is 7 years
and/or an unlimited fine. For supply of MDMA, the penalties in a Crown court,
where such cases are normally heard, can stretch to life imprisonment, an
unlimited fine and the seizure of all assets.
- In line with Scotland's distinct legal system, the law on MDMA is applied
differently there to the rest of Britain. In Scotland, anyone found in possession
of MDMA is prosecuted, even if they only have very small quantities. But
in England and Wales, and especially in London, the trend is towards cautioning.
There is a big difference between 'possession' and 'supply' in the kind
and severity of penalties imposed, but no fixed cut off point. People found
in possession of only one E have been prosecuted for supply, on the strength
of other evidence that they were dealers. Magistrates courts normally deal
with possession cases. The usual fine is #15 to #100 for a first offence
and for the lowest income groups; #25 to #200 for two different drugs and
an increase of some 25% for a second offence. But courts vary in the penalties
they impose. Country courts where drugs cases are uncommon probably give
the highest sentences; city courts the lowest. Fines are now worked out
on a Unit Fine System which is related to the offender's disposable income.
Magistrates courts don't generally differentiate between Ecstasy and Amphetamine,
even though they are in different classes, but Crown courts do.
- Prosecutions on the grounds of supply are nearly always heard in a Crown
court. As a general rule, imprisonment is the penalty for those found guilty
unless there are mitigating circumstances. For small amounts, offenders
are typically sentenced to 18 months to 2 years imprisonment; and for medium
quantities the sentence may be 3-5 years. Sentencing also depends on the
particular circumstances of the case: one person got 3 years for 3 LSD tablets
but there was evidence that he had sold a tablet of LSD to someone who had
died as a result of taking it.
- The trend towards cautioning offenders is spreading throughout the country.
Poulter's advice to those who are arrested is as follows: Ask for a solicitor.
Legal assistance is free to people who have been arrested. Police often
suggest that suspects admit that what they have been found with is a drug
and offer, in exchange, to recommend a caution. However, they may not keep
their word. A local solicitor who knows the police can help to avoid this.
If police arrive with a warrant, cooperate or you will be charged with an
extra offence. But you should ask them for a copy of the warrant and the
reason why they are searching.
- Police must have reasonable cause for stopping and searching a member
of the public. This would not include simply being in a place where drugs
have been on sale. They have the power to strip search. If police attempt
to strip search you ask them why they are doing it. If their grounds were
not legal, the evidence so obtained will be dismissed by the court. Never
resist a search physically. Keep calm and negotiate with the police. Intimate
search - which includes looking inside any part of your body including the
mouth and ears - is only admissible when there is reason to suspect intent
to supply class A drugs. If youare intimately searched in the genital or
anal area on grounds that are not legal, you could charge the police with
indecent assault. You cannot be compelled to give blood or urine for testing.
- Recently Ecstasy has been on sale at #8-#12 per pill. In real terms,
prices of illicit drugs have fallen steadily over the years without a fall
in quality, with the exception of Amphetamine which is now far weaker than
it was a few years ago.
- Release operates a telephone help line for people accused of drug offences.
The agency receives about 21,000 calls a year, of which some 14% are related
to Ecstasy. 30% of calls come from non-users such as parents or professionals.
About half concern legal matters, and the other half concern the use of
drugs and their effects.
- Poulter also told me, incorrectly, that Class A drugs cannot be prescribed
by doctors and that the maximum penalties in a magistrates court for unlawful
possession of MDMA or for supply of MDMA, are 6 months in prison and/or
a #2,000 fine. In fact, doctors may prescribe Class A drugs, but may not
prescribe Schedule I drugs, a category into which MDMA also falls, while
the maximum penalty in a magistrates court is #5,000.
E is for Ecstasy by Nicholas Saunders (firstname.lastname@example.org)
HTMLized by Lamont Granquist (email@example.com)