Pubdate: Wed, 21 Feb 2001
Source: East Anglian Daily Times (UK)
Copyright: 2001 Eastern Counties Newspapers Group Ltd
Author: Pat Parker


SOUTH Suffolk MP Tim Yeo has broken ranks with the Shadow Cabinet by 
calling for cannabis to be made available for medicinal use, and for an 
open debate on whether the drug should be decriminalised.

His views are in direct conflict with official Tory policy, which is firmly 
against the legalisation of cannabis under any circumstances.

The Shadow Agriculture Minister, who has admitted taking the drug while at 
university, said the experience of his son, Jonathan, who took cannabis to 
ease the side-effects of chemotherapy treatment for cancer, had greatly 
influenced him.

Mr Yeo said: "I think Jonathan's experience is perhaps the most significant 
here. There are quite strong grounds for thinking that, for some medical 
conditions, cannabis can provide relief from pain and suffering.

"I would like to see it possible for people suffering from MS to have 
access to cannabis. That is not to say it should be legalised, it's to say 
it could be used by doctors for medicinal purposes under prescription."

Jonathan, now a successful portrait artist, fell ill with Hodgkin's 
Disease, a form of lymphatic cancer, while at university. He went on to 
make a full recovery but took cannabis to relieve the extreme nausea caused 
by chemotherapy.

Mr Yeo hit the headlines last October when he became the eighth Shadow 
Cabinet minister to admit to having taken cannabis in his youth. He was the 
only one, though, to say he actually enjoyed the drug.

The admissions followed Shadow Home Secretary Ann Widdecombe's shock 
proposals, unveiled at the Tory party conference, to impose on-the-spot 
?100 fines for cannabis use. The plans were denounced as unworkable by 
police chiefs and drugs charities alike, and the Tories were forced to 

But, in a move which will no doubt infuriate Miss Widdecombe, Mr Yeo has 
now called for a full debate on whether the drug should be legalised or 

He said: "What I do hope we can have is a proper debate about it. There was 
a very important report - the Runciman Report - commissioned by the Police 
Foundation almost a year ago, which was advocating some moves in the 
direction of decriminalisation, and it hasn't had as much consideration as 
I think it deserved."

Mr Yeo said he thought the arguments for and against decriminalisation were 
"very finely balanced" and that he respected the views of those who say it 
could lead to people taking more dangerous drugs.

"I wouldn't want to rush into any changes, but what politicians have failed 
to do is bring these issues out into the open. It's been a taboo subject, 
and I think, because every family in the country is affected by this, it 
does need to be debated more widely."

His views contrast strongly with the zero-tolerance approach to soft drugs 
espoused by Ann Widdecombe.

A Conservative Party spokesman said that while the party was "still in 
consultation" about the on-the-spot fine proposals which caused such a 
furore, the rest of Miss Widdecombe's proposals to crack down on soft drug 
use were still intact.

She confirmed that the party was opposed to the legalisation of cannabis 
for medicinal purposes, because other drugs could have a similar 
pain-relieving effect.

Mr Yeo denied that the cannabis-taking confessions by members of the Shadow 
Cabinet were part of a co-ordinated conspiracy to undermine Miss 
Widdecombe' s proposals, but said she had failed to discuss them adequately 
with colleagues.

"I think the lesson we draw from all this is that if you're going to say 
something which is quite controversial, to make sure that it's widely 
discussed with the Shadow Cabinet beforehand," he said.

Mr Yeo said he was not proud of admitting to having taken pot during his 
student days but the announcement of the on-the-spot fine proposals made it 
inevitable that colleagues would then be asked about it.

"If you're going to be asked those questions, then you have to give a 
truthful answer to them. So that sequence of events had a sort of 
inevitability about it."

Mr Yeo also said he believes the party should have "a more liberal attitude 
on social issues - tolerance towards all kinds of minorities, whether they 
have different lifestyles, different sexual preferences, whether they come 
from different backgrounds or speak different languages".

Referring to Michael Portillo, he said he welcomed the fact that the Tories 
now had a Shadow Cabinet member who "admits to a gay past. Twenty years 
ago, you wouldn't have had that. This is progress".

He added: "I think the Conservative Party is moving towards being a much 
more inclusive party. My view is that it needs to go on moving in this 
liberalising direction."

Mr Yeo, who in 1994 was forced to resign as Environment Minister after 
revelations that he and his former mistress had had a "love child", also 
said that cannabis had been "readily available" during his days as a 
student at Cambridge. "A lot of people tried it. Some enjoyed it, some 
didn't. It wasn't really a very big deal."

He could understand why a poll taken immediately after the drug-taking 
admissions by himself and colleagues, such as Francis Maude, had shown a 
rise in the Tories' popularity.

"A lot of people feel politicians are not really human beings at all, but 
that isn't the case. Politicians are very human, and have exactly the same 
emotions, hopes and fears as anyone else. What we said - and particularly 
what I said - made them realise we were leading exactly the same sorts of 
lives as most people."
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