Pubdate: Tue, 10 Oct 2000
Source: Guardian, The (UK)
Copyright: 2000 Guardian Newspapers Limited
Contact:  75 Farringdon Road, London EC1R 3ER, England
Fax: +44-171-837 4530


The Conservatives faced fresh embarrassment over their drugs policy tonight 
after an eighth shadow Cabinet minister admitted using cannabis - and said 
he enjoyed it.

Tory Agriculture spokesman Tim Yeo's reported comments came after leader 
William Hague spent the day attempting a dignified retreat from the party's 
hardline zero-tolerance policy on cannabis.

Less than a week after toasting shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe's 
plans for ?100 fines for possessing even the smallest amount of cannabis, 
Mr Hague admitted "concerns" about  the policy and said further 
consultation was needed.

And Mr Yeo apparently added to the disarray after becoming the first senior 
politician of any party to say he had enjoyed the drug.

He could not be reached at his London home tonight but The Times quoted Mr 
Yeo saying he had used cannabis infrequently "a long way in the past".

"I was offered it on occasion and enjoyed it. I think it can be a much 
pleasanter experience than having too much to drink," he reportedly said.

His comments followed similar confessions from Francis Maude, Archie Norman 
and five other  shadow ministers and Michael Fabricant, a Tory MP sitting 
on the Home Affairs select committeeover the weekend.

But unlike them, Mr Yeo told The Times: "I don't share the view that it was 
disagreeable. I found it agreeable."

And Mr Hague will see former deputy leader Peter Lilley break ranks over 
the issue when he  publishes a pamphlet arguing for legalisation in direct 
opposition to party policy, The Times predicted.

The Tory leader publicly backedshadow Cabinet colleagues for coming clean 
over their youthful  experimentation as he appeared to back-pedal over Miss 
Widdecombe's plans.

"The proposals we have made are on the table but they need further 
consultation, discussion and debate," the Tory leader said.

As well as being seen as a U-turn for the Tories the policyendment is a 
bitter blow to Miss Widdecombe.

Her plans had been criticised by police, Drugs tsar Keith Hellawell and 
senior figures from within her own party before the seven Conservative 
frontbenchers admitted taking cannabis when students.

Mr Hague said he had authorised the frontbenchers to answer questions about 
their drug-use honestly and said he would have been "appalled if they had 
done anything else".

But he insisted he still had faith in his senior home affairs spokeswoman 
saying: "I have 150% confidence in Ann Widdecombe - she will be a great 
crime fighting Home Secretary."

The Tories' rivals seized on their disarray with Labour saying the 
Conservatives had gone from "zero tolerance to zero credibility".

Home Office minister Paul Boateng said: "William Hague says he is backing 
Widdecombe 150% while at the same time he is trying to ditch the policy.

"His opportunism and weakness in the face of a shadow cabinet revolt is 
clear to see."

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy said: "This fiasco exemplifies just 
how out of touch William Hague's Conservative Party is with Britain today.

"How can William Hague have 150% confidence in his shadow home secretary 
Ann Widdecombehen she does not enjoy that confidence from within the shadow 
cabinet nor the police."

However, the row highlighted the debate on drugs policy and renewed calls 
for decriminalisation of cannabis.

Former chief constable of Gwent police Francis Wilkinson argued cannabis 
was less damaging to society than tobacco or alcohol in a pamphlet 
published today entitled The Leaf and the Law.

He said: "There is an enormous illegal industry growing fat on the 
prohibition of a drug that is less harmful than either alcohol or tobacco. 
It is time for politicians to start debating this issue seriously."

And Mr Hellawell told BBC Radio4's Today programme the focus should not be 
on cannabis.

"The problem in this country with drugs is largely related to heroin and 
cocaine. The drugs strategy we have, laid out over 10 years, directs our 
attention to that," he said.

"Yet people will keep, still, coming forward, believing that either 
legalisation of cannabis, or a veryhard line on cannabis, is going to 
resolve the issue."

Cabinet ministers were also facing questions about their own drug use and 
both Chancellor Gordon Brown and Culture Secretary Chris Smith denied using 

Meanwhile Downing Street said that the Government had no plans to change 
the law.

"We have no intention of legalising or decriminalising any drugs that are 
currently illegal," a spokesman said. "The laws are there and it is for the 
police to enforce them as they see fit."
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