HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Labour MPs In Cannabis Shift
Pubdate: Thu, 19 Jul 2001
Source: BBC News (UK Web)
Copyright: 2001 BBC


Labour MPs are turning against their government's opposition to the 
legalisation of cannabis, a poll carried out by the BBC suggests.

The overwhelming majority of 116 Labour MPs taking part in a poll for 
the BBC World at One programme supported a substantial inquiry into 
the drug, such as a royal commission.

Do you support decriminalisation?
Yes: 32
No: 31
Don't know: 4
Subject to trials/ if prescribed: 4
Depend on royal commission: 45
Total MPs taking part: 116
And almost 30% indicated that they were in favour of decriminalising 
the drug immediately.

It prompted one Labour member of the influential Commons home affairs 
select committee to predict cannabis would be decriminalised by the 
end of this parliament.

Only recently Home Secretary David Blunkett called for an "adult 
debate" on cannabis law reform, which some took as a signal that 
government attitudes were shifting.

Poll details

The survey, carried out by the BBC's political research unit, showed 
that 32 of the 116 Labour MPs would vote in favour of decriminalising 
the use and supply of cannabis.

Another 45 said their vote would depend on the outcome of a royal commission.

Setting up such an inquiry was supported by a total of 95 MPs, with 20 against.

Do you favour a large scale inquiry?
Yes: 95
No: 20
Don't know: 1
Of the 234 Labour MPs who were asked their answers to the survey's 
questions, 116 gave answers and the other 118 refused to comment.

David Winnick - a member of the home affairs select committee which 
is rumoured to be considering its own inquiry into the drug - told 
World at One: "I would have thought cannabis at least would be 
decriminalised by the next election, and would I not be right 
insaying to a large extent it is?

"What is required is courage from the government to recognise what is 
happening and a sensible attitude from the main opposition party, not 
playing politics with it."

Drug report

Dame Ruth Runciman, whose report for the Police Foundation last year 
called for cannabis to be downgraded to Class C status, said the 
survey results reflected "considerable unease" about the UK's drug 

"It looks as though Labour MPs are beginning to be sensitive to the 
constituency for some degree of change that there seems to be out 
there," she said.

Survey responses
Total: 234
No comments: 118
Answers: 116
The poll could provide a boost to Jon Owen Jones, a one-time Welsh 
Health Minister who presented a private members' bill to 
decriminalise cannabis to the Commons on Wednesday.

The Cardiff Central MP has admitted he smoked the drug several times 
while at university and he believes in a "radical solution" to the 
issue of cannabis.

Pressure is growing from elsewhere too. Conservative MP and former 
cabinet minister Peter Lilley recently surprised his party colleagues 
by calling for cannabis to be legalised and sold through special 
off-licence style high street stores.

Two former home secretaries, Liberal Democrat Lord Jenkins of 
Hillhead and Tory Lord (Kenneth) Baker of Dorking, also back 

But, despite Mr Blunkett's recent comments, a shift in ministers' 
firm opposition to changing the law is unlikely in the near future.

A royal commission has been ruled out for the moment and a Home 
Office spokesman said: "The government's position is clear. We have 
no plans to legalise any currently controlled substance."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Kirk