HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Blunkett Calls For Drug Debate
Pubdate: Mon, 09 Jul 2001
Source: Guardian, The (UK)
Copyright: 2001 Guardian Newspapers Limited
Author: Patrick Wintour, chief political correspondent
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


Campaigners for legalisation welcome home secretary's desire for an
adult, intelligent discussion

Home secretary David Blunkett yesterday opened the government's mind to
the possible decriminalisation of cannabis by calling for an intelligent
debate on the issue.

His remarks were welcomed by campaigners for legalisation who claimed
they represented a marked shift in tone from that of his predecessor,
Jack Straw.

Mr Blunkett was speaking as the outgoing chief inspector of prisons, Sir
David Ramsbotham, called for legalisation.

Sir David said: "The more I think about it and the more I look at what's
happening, the more I can see the logic of legalising drugs, because the
misery that is caused by the people who are making criminal profit is so
appalling, and the sums are so great that are being made illegally that
I think there is merit in legalising and prescribing, or whatever, so
people don't have to go and find an illegal way of doing it."

He told the BBC: "I've come a very long way through exposure to what the
drug culture has done to the people I am seeing in prison, their
families and the community from which they come." Two former home
secretaries, Lord Baker and Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, also backed the

The renewed debate on legalisation may turn on the assessment in six
months' time of an experimental scheme in Lambeth, south London, where
the police have decided not to prosecute minor cases.

Mr Blunkett stressed yesterday that he would not be rushed into any
quick decisions and insisted there was no "easy way forward". He then
said the police should have discretion to experiment with new policing
methods without facing accusations that the whole of the government's
anti-drugs policy is unravelling. However, he opposed a royal commission
on the legalisation of drugs, the formal policy of the Liberal

Speaking on Sky TV yesterday Mr Blunkett said: "There is room for an
adult, intelligent debate but it isn't 'are you for or against?' It's
let's think, let's consider, let's not be pushed by articles in
newspapers or hysteria."

As an intelligent human being, he said, he was interested in a debate,
but added: "I have no intention of making a change in government policy
out of the blue, and if I have anything further to say on the issue I
will do so in a considered fashion in my own time."

At the same time, the home secretary did little to differentiate between
different drugs or to reject the notion that cannabis could be a gateway
drug to harder substances such as cocaine.

He said: "It doesn't matter whether one drug is less dangerous than
another. The clear message that we have to send out to young people is
that drugs are bad for you and you shouldn't take them

"That applies obviously to class A drugs such as heroin and crack
cocaine, but it is equally true of others.

"Unless we put that message up front we will mislead our young people
into believing that there is some easy way forward on the drugs issue.
There isn't."

Former Tory deputy leader Peter Lilley, a convert to legalisation,
praised Mr Blunkett for "moving in the right direction". Labour MP Paul
Flynn, a veteran campaigner for legalisation, also praised Mr Blunkett's
willingness to listen.

"Under Jack Straw they ruled out discussion, let alone any change of
policy. The policy was to put your head under the pillow and hide," he

An attempt to prove that convictions for possession for small amounts of
cannabis is in breach of the human rights act will be mounted today. The
pressure group Liberty will defend Jerry Ham at Southwark crown court
arguing that his arrest is in breach of his right to a private life.
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