Pubdate: Thu, 18 Oct 2001
Source: Independent  (UK)
Copyright: 2001 Independent Newspapers (UK) Ltd.
Author: David Barrett
Bookmark: (Cannabis)


A Labour MP is launching a Private Member's Bill to legalise personal use 
of cannabis - arguing that beleaguered British farmers could grow it as a 
cash crop.

Jon Owen Jones said the measure would "remove criminals from the equation" 
and could provide a "hardy cash crop" for British farmers, left on their 
knees by foot-and-mouth disease, BSE, tumbling dairy prices and concerns 
over GM crops.

The Cardiff Central MP's Legalisation of Cannabis Bill is due to be debated 
in the House of Commons next week, but is highly unlikely to become law.

However, it comes after a noticeable shift in public attitudes to the drug.

MPs who have spoken out in favour of liberalising the drug laws include 
former Tory Cabinet minister Peter Lilley. And the first official pilot 
project where police turn a blind eye to possession of the drug began this 
summer in south London.

The Bill would legalise the personal cultivation of cannabis and its use 
for therapeutic and recreational purposes. A Government licensing system 
would also be set up for commercial cultivation of cannabis and for 
international trade in the drug.

Mr Jones said: "All over the world it is becoming clear that cannabis use 
is a fact of life and trying to deal with it through the criminal justice 
system is absurd.

"Legalisation is the most rational way forward."

The Bill, drafted in conjunction with the civil rights group Liberty, is 
backed by MPs from all three main political parties.

Mark Littlewood, director of campaigns at Liberty, said: "The public don't 
want our police force frittering their energies over a victimless 'crime' 
like cannabis use.

"Our drug laws are arcane and outdated. As the Home Secretary himself has 
hinted, they need urgent review.".

Mr Jones's proposals come as a cross-party House of Commons committee is 
due to begin investigating the possible decriminalisation of hard and soft 

The Home Affairs Select Committee will question whether current drug rules 
are failing. It has not limited its remit to the liberalisation of cannabis 
and will also discuss decriminalising Class A drugs such as heroin and 
crack cocaine.

MPs will examine the possible impact such a move would have on crime, 
drug-related deaths and demand.

Members will also examine whether decriminalisation is desirable and, if 
not, discuss "practical alternatives".

There have been growing backbench calls for liberalisation of cannabis laws.

Mr Lilley, ex-deputy leader of the Tory party, envisaged magistrates 
issuing licences for outlets selling cannabis to over-18s.

In July police in Lambeth, south London, became the first to turn a blind 
eye to possession of small amounts of cannabis, dealing with the offence by 
a verbal warning rather than arrest.

Downing Street has firmly resisted any liberalisation of the drug laws, 
although Home Secretary David Blunkett has said there should be an "adult, 
intelligent" debate on the issue.

Mr Jones said he had yet to meet anyone with a valid argument for continued 
prohibition of therapeutic use of the drug.

His Bill proposed legalising recreational use as well because of the 
positive effect it would have on crime and other aspects of society.

"If you are going to make a drug legal you may as well make it properly 
legal," he said at today's launch of the Bill in Westminster.

"Decriminalisation does not alleviate the problem of corruption and very 
powerful and wealthy importers.

"We've had a drugs tsar for three years. He's down and he's gone already 
but the position is worse than when we started.

"The harm caused by prohibition is far greater than the harm the drug causes."

He cited an example given to him by a senior policeman, who said his force 
arrested 12 major suppliers - but that within a week levels of supply were 
back to normal.

However, there was even more violence on the streets as new drug lords 
fought for the "vacant" territory.

Mr Jones said legalisation would remove such problems, as two-thirds of 
Britain's drug market was cannabis and his legislation would undermine the 
whole drugs trade and reduce the risk of cannabis users being wooed onto 
harder drugs by dealers.

Conservative MP David Cameron, a member of the Home Affairs Select 
Committee, who attended the launch, told PA News: "I welcome the debate 
because it is one we need to have.

"I'm going to be looking carefully at the arguments before I make up my mind."

He asked Mr Jones to submit all his evidence to the committee, which is due 
to begin its own major inquiry into Britain's drugs laws later this month.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Beth