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banner Thursday, 5 October, 2000, 08:41 GMT 09:41 UK
Tory drugs row continues
Ann Widdecombe
The speech went down well - at first
The row over Ann Widdecombe's zero tolerance approach to drug use has continued, with some Tories calling for a rethink and the party heirarchy denying that the plan had not been thought through properly.

In her conference speech on Wednesday, the shadow home secretary proposed a mandatory 100 fine for possessing even the smallest amount of drugs or having them in the bloodstream.

I think the policy really needs to be rethought

Boris Johnson
This was roundly condemned not just by drugs workers and rights groups, but by the police, some party members and normally supportive newspapers such as The Daily Telegraph.

But Tory party chairman Michael Ancram told BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Thursday: "This policy was not made on the hoof and also I think it is important to put this policy in context... in that we are addressing the real concerns of the people out in the country."

'I didn't smoke cannabis'

On Wednesday evening, William Hague tried to defuse the criticism by saying that the party would talk to the police before launching such a crackdown, should it be returned to power.

The Tory leader told Channel 4 News that there was a need to ensure the fight against drugs was not just confined to dealers, but added:

"At the moment efforts made to fight the drugs menace have been ineffective, so are we going to surrender or are we going to intensify the battle? I think we ought to intensify it."

Mr Hague said he had not smoked cannabis as a youth and insisted that the tougher line on drugs was standing up for the "common sense instinct of the country".

'Waste of police time?'

However, questioning from within the party continued with high-profile Conservative Boris Johnson telling a fringe meeting in Bournemouth that he doubted whether the plan would be a sensible use of police time.

Mr Johnson, editor of The Spectator and Tory candidate for Michael Heseltine's seat in Henley, said he would hesitate long and hard before dissenting from the idea.

But he continued: "It seems to me it could lead to more heavy handed policing of a problem that could be tackled quite well by the use of shame - by making it clear to people that drugs are a failing and a moral weakness.

"I would much rather that people used that sort of language... rather than spending a lot of money on policemen arresting young people for having a spliff.

"I think the policy really needs to be rethought."

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