Pubdate: Fri 24 May 2002
Source: Independent  (UK)
Copyright: 2002 Independent Newspapers (UK) Ltd.
Author: Marie Woolf, Chief Political Correspondent


One of Britain's most senior law lords surprised drug campaigners yesterday 
by saying it would be "stupid" to oppose the legalisation of marijuana.

Lord Bingham of Cornhill, a former Lord Chief Justice, said bluntly in an 
interview for Spectator magazine that prohibiting the drug was not working.

Asked by the magazine's editor, Boris Johnson, whether cannabis should be 
legalised, the law lord replied: "Absolutely. It is stupid having a law 
which isn't doing what it is there for ... Everybody thinks our system is 
becoming soft and wimpish. In point of fact, it is one of the most punitive 
systems in the world."

Lord Bingham went much further than David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, who 
has proposed downgrading cannabis from a class B to a class C drug. He is 
also out of step with the Home Affairs Select Committee, which rejected 
legalisation of cannabis in its review of Britain's drugs laws, saying it 
would send out the wrong message to young people.

The Conservatives, who are carrying out their own review of drugs policy, 
and the Liberal Democrats declined to comment on Lord Bingham's remarks. 
But his views were welcomed by groups working with drugs users, who said it 
was the only way to keep drug dealing out of the hands of criminals.

Kevin Flemen, the acting director of the drug charity Release, said that he 
"wholeheartedly supported" Lord Bingham's comments. "Reclassifying 
cannabis, as David Blunkett suggests, is a fudge with precious few benefits 
apart from saving police time.

"Young people are confused about whether cannabis is decriminalised or not, 
as they have been told they won't be prosecuted for it. And people will 
still have to go to the illicit market to buy cannabis, where they will be 
exposed to and offered other drugs."

Steve Rolles, of the drug reform group Transform, said: "Too many public 
figures who support reform do not speak out for fear of vilification. Lord 
Bingham should be applauded."

Lord Bingham, who is 68, served as Lord Chief Justice from 1996 until 2000, 
when he became the first to be appointed a senior law lord.

In his interview, he also reiterated his desire to set up an American-style 
Supreme Court and criticised the way judges sat in the House of Lords. "We 
ought to be seen for what we are a " which is judges," he said, adding that 
almost none of the law lords take part in the debates. "The House of Lords 
should not have non-playing members," he said.
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