Straw is Forced Into Drug Debate

Straw is Forced Into Drug Debate
Posted by FoM on April 03, 2000 at 11:29:48 PT
By George Jones, Political Editor
Source: Electronic Telegraph
The Government has bowed to demands for a public debate on the drug laws. Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, indicated so yesterday while insisting that the Government was still firmly opposed to scrapping jail terms for possessing cannabis, ecstasy and LSD.
For the first time, Mr Straw publicly acknowledged that there was a "coherent argument" in favour of legalising cannabis and the new Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir John Stevens, admitted that pursuing cannabis users was not a "priority".The Government has been reluctant to allow a public debate on legalising cannabis, fearing that it would dent the tough law and order image Tony Blair and Mr Straw have tried to cultivate. But ministers have been surprised by the response to last week's report from the Police Foundation, which suggested that penalties for illegal drugs should be reduced, even though supplying them would remain a serious offence.It recommended that possession of cannabis should be punishable only by cautions or fixed fines. The report was criticised by anti-drug campaigners, including the parents of Leah Betts, the teenager who died after taking a single ecstasy tablet. Others described it as a "breath of fresh air" in view of growing evidence that while Britain has some of the toughest drug laws of any major Western country, it has the biggest consumption of drugs and the worst addiction rate. Downing Street was taken aback by the reaction to a leading article in The Telegraph, which examined the arguments for legalising cannabis for an experimental period. Writing in the News of the World, Mr Straw said he welcomed the Police Foundation report and was "always up for a debate" on tackling drugs.Home Office sources later emphasised that Mr Straw would use the debate to put across the Government's clear opposition to decriminalising cannabis and make the case for keeping the present legal framework. Mr Straw said that, although the Police Foundation did not recommend legalising cannabis, he accepted that there was a "coherent argument" for doing so."This says that cannabis is different in effect from hard drugs such as cocaine and heroin and is no more serious in its effects than alcohol and tobacco. More people, so the argument goes, die from smoking and more crimes are committed because of drink than because of cannabis. The answer, therefore, is to legalise and let people make their own decision. This is the argument, but I don't agree with it."Mr Straw accepted that making cannabis legal would not necessarily greatly increase addiction to hard drugs. He said: "While it is undoubtedly the case that many drug addicts started with cannabis, to claim that taking cannabis is bound to lead people into hard drugs has always seemed to me far-fetched."But consumption would rise and the more government tried to choke off demand by taxing cannabis, the greater the incentive for smugglers. Britain would take over from the Netherlands as the centre for Europe's drug trade. Mr Straw confirmed that those found with small amounts of cannabis were usually cautioned for a first offence. He also acknowledged that cannabis might become a prescription drug for certain conditions.The Metropolitan Police Commissioner made his comments during a fact-finding trip to New York. Sir John told reporters: "If the law says that cannabis is illegal, then we enforce the laws. If Parliament says it's legal, then so be it." In London, "with robberies and murders up, cannabis cannot be a priority".Whitehall officials denied that Mo Mowlam, the Cabinet Office Minister in charge of the anti-drugs strategy, had been "gagged". She is said to be arguing in Cabinet for a more relaxed stance on soft drugs. Press Releases - Home Office The Drugs Prevention Advisory Service - Home Office DrugText Police Foundation Inquiry into the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 report from Transform DrugNet LSD Information - Big Brother's Virtual Undergroud What is Crack Cocaine? - Cocaine.org Issue 1774 Monday 3 April 2000  Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2000. CannabisNews Related Articles: A Taboo Goes Up in Smoke Ahead on Drugs Reform To Decriminalise Cannabis Goes To Parliament of Struggle Fails To Curb Drugs Drugs in Britain: Special Report:
Home Comment Email Register Recent Comments Help

Post Comment

Name: Optional Password: 
Comment: [Please refrain from using profanity in your message]
Link URL: 
Link Title: