Press Ahead on Drugs Reform 

Press Ahead on Drugs Reform 
Posted by FoM on March 31, 2000 at 09:47:46 PT
Mark Tran thinks New Labour could learn a lesson 
Source: News Unlimited
For a government that prides itself for being so finely attuned to public opinion, the Blair team appears to have a tin ear in the debate on drugs.The Police Foundation had barely released its report this week, recommending an easing of Britain's drug laws, when government officials trashed it. 
Drug tsar Keith Hellawell dismissed the need for any change in the law, preferring to stick to a US-style war on drugs. It was the knee-jerk reaction of a government determined to show that it still was "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime", a slogan that epitomises new Labour's robust approach to law and order.The left-leaning papers, the Guardian and the Independent, expressed their exasperation at the government's refusal to take seriously the Police Foundation's proposals. No surprise there. Less predictable was the reaction from the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph, two of the most consistently hostile papers to the government.In an editorial that must have had some its regular readers fuming that they were reading a pinko rag, the Telegraph concluded that the war on drugs had failed. The paper said it had reluctantly concluded that the banning of all drugs caused more harm than good. It went on to suggest that the government draw up plans to legalise cannabis. This was a startling conclusion from a paper known for its tough attitude to law-and-order issues.In a similar vein, the Mail, which regularly flails the government, said the Police Foundation report deserved a "hysteria-free and rational examination", something the paper does not apply to issues such as asylum seekers. The paper also carried an argument in favour of decriminalisation by rightwing Cambridge don John Casey - although that was counterbalanced by an angry piece by Janet Betts, whose daughter Leah died after taking an ecstasy tablet.Today, the Telegraph returned to the drugs issue. It fleshed out its proposal for legalisation of cannabis to the point of proposing an excise tax not too high so as to aid the survival of the illegal trade, yet high enough to offer some measure of discouragement. The Telegraph is not the first conservative publication to propose a more liberal approach to drugs. The Economist, that bastion of free-market thinking, has long advocated abandoning the war on drugs.Not all government ministers are so uptight about drugs. Mo Mowlam has stuck her head above the parapet on the issue of legalisation only to be slapped down. But it's a good bet that she is closer to the mainstream than her boss at No 10. That mainstream now includes papers like the Telegraph and the Mail. Drugs is no longer a left-right issue. It is one of those social issues, like abortion, that cuts across traditional party lines and as such allows New Labour considerable room for manoeuvre. If there was ever an issue that cried out for the "third way" approach Mr Blair drones on about so much, it is drugs.The government will get a chance to see whether it is behind public opinion when Labour MP Paul Flynn introduces a bill to decriminalise the use of cannabis. He said he believes there has been a sea change in public attitude towards drug use."The point of this bill is to make sure that the splendid report from the Police Foundation is not kicked aside and ignored," Mr Flynn said. "Even Tony Blair and Jack Straw might be a little shaken by the fact that they are outflanked on this policy on the left by the Daily Telegraph. I believe the whole population is moving in this direction."It is time for the government to move in the same direction. If the Mail and Telegraph are prepared to think afresh about old problems, new Labour should show some willingness to kill a few sacred cows. Otherwise, a party that prides itself on being modern comes across as old-fashioned, conservative and hidebound.By Mark Tran, Guardian Unlimited Press ReviewerPublished: Friday March 31, 2000 Guardian Unlimited  Guardian Newspapers Limited 2000 Drugs In Britain Series:,2759,53519,00.htmlRelated Articles:Bill To Decriminalise Cannabis Goes To Parliament Coffee Shops Proposed of Struggle Fails To Curb Drugs for Drugs Reform Let's Go Dutch? Think-Tank Says Relax Some Drug Laws
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