Pubdate: Sun, 13 Jan 2002
Source: Sunday Times (UK)
Copyright: 2002 Times Newspapers Ltd.
Author: David Connett
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


If you want to take the "high" road to Scotland, head for Edinburgh, where 
there is growing pressure for the city to approve cannabis cafes in an 
attempt to create an "Amsterdam of the north".

Support for the move is rising as the traditionally conservative city 
builds a reputation for street parties and liberal tolerance. It is also 
planning a CCTV-protected "tolerance zone" for prostitutes.

Pete Irvine, one of Scottish tourism's most influential voices, has backed 
calls for the cannabis cafes.

"I'm not proposing Scotland becomes a magnet for dopers," says Irvine, 
awarded the CBE for directing celebrations to mark the royal opening of the 
Scottish parliament. "But Amsterdam has made an industry out of a few cafes 
that sell hash."

He suggests that a similar scheme in Edinburgh would show that Scotland was 
"enlightened and different". The benefits, he believes, would outweigh the 

"Amsterdam may be seedy, but that city's tourism is booming. Most people 
who go there don't necessarily visit cannabis cafes, but they love the 
flavour of that freedom."

Plans to test the city's tolerance for cannabis are already under way. The 
publisher Kevin Williamson, who discovered Irvine Welsh, the author of 
Trainspotting, a book and film about drugs, says he plans to open a 
cannabis cafe early in the summer.

Williamson says there is widespread support for cannabis to be commercially 
available in licensed premises and out of the hands of criminals.

Such arguments have already found favour: a newspaper poll revealed that 
four out of five local people were in favour of the idea. It even has 
support from some local officials.

The Liberal Democrat councillor Mike Pringle says: "I have always been in 
favour of legalising cannabis. Edinburgh is far more forward-looking than 
other cities. I wouldn't use the cafes myself, but I know a lot of people 
who would."

Critics insist Edinburgh will suffer if it inhales the drug cafe culture. 
Tory councillor Daphne Sleigh says it will take the city downmarket. 
"Amsterdam is sleazy and vile, so why are we trying to emulate it?" she says.

The city has, however, already taken steps along the road to being an 
international party venue and the police force has started a drive to 
recruit gays, lesbians and ethnic minorities. Some senior officers are 
open-minded on how to deal with cannabis.

As deputy chief constable of Lothian and Borders police, Tom Wood was 
dubbed Scotland's "rock'n'roll copper" when he successfully policed 
Edinburgh's biggest party in the past 1,000 years: the millennium Hogmanay.

"There must be a debate on the law because it is 30 years old and society 
has moved on," says Wood.

"I don't have a view on the decriminalisation of cannabis. But we cannot 
simply go on adopting the same tactics and reactions to the problems of drugs."

Like David Blunkett, the home secretary, Wood is watching the progress of a 
policing scheme in Brixton, south London, which effectively decriminalises 
possession of cannabis. The initiative is thought to have saved police 
2,000 hours of form-filling after arrests, allowing them to concentrate on 
gun crime and cracking down on hard drugs.

As a result some observers believe Blunkett is likely to reclassify 
cannabis as a class C drug, making small-scale possession a non- arrestable 
offence. It could open the way for cannabis cafes.

In Scotland the row turns as much on what kind of city Edinburgh really is. 
Professor John McLeod, principal of the Free Church college, says 
Edinburgh's image as a Calvinistic city is misplaced.

"Historically it has always been progressive. It prides itself on being 
culturally and intellectually avant-garde," he says. "There is also a 
practical argument. There is only so much the police can do. Some crimes 
cannot be eradicated."
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