Pubdate: Mon, 09 Oct 2000
Source: Irish Times, The (Ireland)
Copyright: 2000 The Irish Times
Contact:  11-15 D'Olier St, Dublin 2, Ireland
Fax: + 353 1 671 9407
Author: Rachel Donnelly


BRITAIN: The Conservative Party is under pressure to rethink its tough 
policy on drugs after seven members of the Shadow Cabinet admitted having 
tried cannabis in their youth.

Insisting his experiences as a student - when he "very, very occasionally" 
smoked cannabis and tried amyl nitrate - were a world away from the image 
of serious drug users and dealers selling to children, the shadow culture 
secretary, Mr Peter Ainsworth, yesterday said the party's "zero tolerance" 
approach to drugs should be reviewed.

The revelations came after the shadow home secretary, Ms Ann Widdecombe, 
proposed tough policies on drugs at the party's annual conference in 
Bournemouth last week, including a fixed penalty of pounds 100 for a first 
offence of possessing drugs, regardless of the quantity.

The party's tough conference stance on drugs angered some Conservatives and 
senior police officers said the policy would be unworkable, but yesterday 
Ms Widdecombe said in response to her colleagues' youthful indiscretions 
that she was "not interested in the past".

However, it seems honesty is not always the best policy and the Tory 
backbencher, Sir Teddy Taylor, said the seven should be sacked.

The seven members of the shadow cabinet who admitted to experimenting with 
cannabis in an article published in the Mail on Sunday were Mr Ainsworth, 
the shadow foreign secretary, Mr Francis Maude, the Tory leader in the 
Lords, Lord Strathclyde, the Tory transport spokesman, Mr Bernard Jenkin, 
the shadow social security secretary, Mr David Willetts, the shadow 
environment secretary, Mr Archie Norman and the shadow chief secretary to 
the treasury, Mr Oliver Letwin.

The newspaper said the Conservative leader, Mr William Hague, and Ms 
Widdecombe were among nine shadow frontbenchers who denied ever having 
experimented with drugs. Three senior figures, including the shadow 
chancellor, Mr Michael Portillo, declined to answer.

In an interview with BBC Radio 4, Mr Ainsworth suggested that Ms Widdecombe 
had not discussed the proposals before making the announcement at the party 

"The policy needs to be looked at again and it needs to be discussed, and 
that would be a help, frankly, when making policy."

Joining the debate, the Liberal Democrat leader, Mr Charles Kennedy, became 
the first mainstream political leader in Britain to call for the 
decriminalisation of cannabis.

In an interview with ITV's Dimbleby programme, Mr Kennedy said in 
government the party would take advice from a Royal Commission before 
changing the law but recreational cannabis use should, at the least, be a 
civil rather than a criminal offence.

Cannabis should also be a prescribable drug for people suffering from 
debilitating diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, he suggested. 
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