HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Tory Hopefuls Break Party Line On Cannabis
Pubdate: Sat, 23 Jun 2001
Source: Observer, The (UK)
Copyright: 2001 The Observer
Bookmark: (Cannabis)


Three of the leading contenders for the Tory leadership last night broke 
with the party's traditional hardline opposition to drugs by calling for a 
major debate on the legalisation of cannabis.

In a dramatic attempt to outflank the Labour Party over its refusal to 
engage in debate on the issue, the leadership contenders all signalled 
their willingness to reflect public opinion on the use of 'soft' drugs.

David Davis was the first to break the party line, arguing that politicians 
owed it to anxious parents to be open about drugs. His stance was backed by 
his leadership rivals Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Ancram, both seen as 
traditionalists but anxious to shed any image of stuffiness.

Only Michael Portillo refused to discuss drugs directly. However, he gave a 
strong hint of his sympathies in a statement, saying that he wished to 
foster 'the broadest and most stimulating debate' on policy for 25 years.

The new twist in the Tory contest not only turns the party's drugs policy 
upside down but poses a serious challenge to Tony Blair, with Labour now 
the only party resisting even discussing a change in the law.

Asked about cannabis legalisation, Davis insisted he was not personally in 
favour, arguing that in The Netherlands it had led to problems with harder 
drugs. But he suggested that this should not prevent open discussion.

'I do think we should have the debate. There are an awful lot of people - 
parents - who are terrified out there, about the truths and myths of drugs, 
and I think we owe it to them to have the debate so facts can be aired,' he 

A source close to Duncan Smith said that, while he has always been seen as 
a hardliner on social issues, his real views were more liberal.

'We must address this situation where for medical reasons people need it,' 
the source said. 'No one has put forward the argument to him yet where he 
would feel that legalisation would be right, but the answers are still 
there to be discussed. He is much more concerned about dealers than he is 
about ordinary people.'

A spokesman for Ancram said he accepted there should be a discussion on 
changing the law. A Portillo spokesman said he wanted the party to initiate 
a broad policy debate.

None of the contenders were among the nine senior Tories who confessed last 
autumn to having used cannabis in the past.
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