HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html UK Cannabis Row
Pubdate: Mon,  9 Oct 2000
Source: Reuters
Copyright: 2000 Reuters Limited.
Author: Simon Gardner



LONDON, Oct 9 (Reuters) - Marijuana should be legalised in Britain to help
stamp out harder drugs, former police chiefs argued on Monday, rejecting
draconian proposals by opposition Conservatives for ``zero tolerance'' on
soft drugs.

Shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe's vow to fine anyone caught with any
quantity of cannabis if the Conservatives win the next election has
triggered a raging debate in Britain -- drawing widespread derision and
dividing her own party.

Dismissed as a ``backward step'' by police and as ``unrealistic and
impracticable'' by the government's anti-drugs coordinator Keith Hellawell,
Widdecombe's proposals have now spawned a defiant chorus of ``legalise it.''

``I spent years fighting the drugs trade at Heathrow and on the streets of
London and my direct experience has convinced me that legalisation, not
prohibition, is the only viable option,'' former Scotland Yard drug squad
chief Edward Ellison said.

``Zero tolerance would simply make an appalling situation far worse,'' he

Hellawell told BBC radio that research showed at least six million Britons
had tried cannabis but a much smaller proportion used it regularly.

Police currently turn a blind eye to recreational cannabis use in Britain,
cracking down instead on dealers of hard drugs like heroin and cocaine.


Widdecombe last week announced her plan for 100 pound ($145) fines for first
time offenders and charges comparable to drug dealing for anyone caught with
all but the smallest quantities of soft drugs.

It backfired badly.

Seven of her shadow cabinet colleagues have since admitted smoking cannabis
in the past and party leader William Hague now has to heal a rift which
threatens to halt the Tories' comeback.

Former Gwent police head Francis Wilkinson argued alcohol was far more
socially damaging than smoking ``very safe'' cannabis, saying distinguishing
it from harder drugs would freeze out dealers.

``Cannabis needs to be moved across to the legal drugs side and leave things
like crack cocaine and heroin on the other side... so that cannabis is not a
gateway through the same suppliers into harder and more dangerous drugs,''
he told BBC radio.

``Alcohol is much more serious, much more socially damaging, much more
powerful than cannabis, he added.

While Hellawell's 10-year anti-drugs strategy in Britain is focused on
cutting the availability of hard drugs like heroin and cocaine by 50 percent
by 2008, he said legalising cannabis was not the answer.

``I think it is unrealistic and impracticable to talk about zero tolerance.
It just would not work,'' Hellawell said. ``The problem in this country is
largely related to heroin and cocaine.''
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