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Tuesday, 7 November, 2000, 13:21 GMT
Labour confusion on drugs

Mo Mowlam has admitted smoking cannabis in the past
On the day the government's anti-drugs "czar" published his annual report, apparent mixed messages emerged from the cabinet as to Labour's line on the issue.

First, Cabinet Office Minister Mo Mowlam signalled a softening of the government's hardline approach to the legalisation of cannabis and said ministers wished to see "more open discussion on the impact of cannnabis".

Speaking just hours before the government's anti-drugs co-ordinator Keith Hellawell released his report, she also forecast that moves towards allowing the drug to be used for medicinal purposes could begin "by the end of next year".

David Blunkett: Stressed tough anti-drugs line
But within another few hours of Ms Mowlam's comments, Education Secretary David Blunkett insisted that the message on drugs remained "just say No".

Mr Blunkett, who was on a tour of a west London school with Ms Mowlam and Mr Hellawell to launch the annual report, said juvenile drug abuse was usually connected to other problems such as crime and truancy.

Mr Blunkett said: "We want all children and young people to learn about the dangers which drug misuse brings - everyday ones like alcohol and tobacco as well as illegal drugs - and the harm drugs can cause to people's lives."

Children should be equipped with information the subject so they can "assess risks and make informed decisions", he said.

'Open discussion'

Speaking earlier, Ms Mowlam said a number of scientific trials on cannabis were drawing to a close and action could follow soon.

"I hope that by the end of next year those scientific results will be out and then we can make a clear evaluation in relation to medicinal use," she said.

Asked if this meant there was a prospect by the end of next year of government backing for the legalisation of cannabis for medical use, Ms Mowlam said: "Yes but legalise it in the form of cannaboids which is a kind of derivative so people don't have to smoke it."

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Ms Mowlam revealed that the cabinet was considering a change in the attitude to drugs as part of a wider public debate.

Until recently Prime Minister Tony Blair and Home Secretary Jack Straw have adopted a consistently tough line whenever the question of liberalising drugs laws has been raised.

Ms Mowlam, who is in charge of drugs policy, said: "What is going on is not just a cabinet discussion, what is going on is what we want to see - which is a more open discussion on the impact of cannnabis.

"We have no trouble with that but our position on cannabis has not changed."

She also insisted there were "positive, encouraging signs" that the government's 10-year drugs strategy was working.

This included halving the availability of Class A drugs on the streets, halving the number of young people using heroin and cocaine and doubling the number of drug misusers in treatment by 2008.

'Mega good news'

Ms Mowlam described as "mega good news" results showing that pilots of new drug-treatment programmes produced success rates of 96% and these would now be rolled out across the country.

At the weekend the minister said that scientific evidence was not yet available to suggest that smoking cannabis leads to taking heroin.

The Redcar MP, who is leaving the Commons at the next election, was an early member of what has become a growing band of politicians to admit having smoked cannabis for recreational purposes in the past.

Last month eight members of the Conservative shadow cabinet joined in confessing their past use of the drug. Hard on their heels, Public Health Minister Yvette Cooper admitted to having done so.

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See also:

07 Nov 00 | UK
Britain 'winning drugs war'
14 Oct 00 | UK Politics
Minister admits cannabis past
10 Oct 00 | UK Politics
Straw: Cannabis debate welcome
08 Oct 00 | UK Politics
Tory drug confessors join growing club
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