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The BBC's Geeta Guru Murphy
"It is something of an unholy alliance"
 real 56k

Peter Lilley MP
"I do not want to see a trade in cannabis"
 real 28k

Ann Widdecombe, shadow Home Secretary
"The position of the party is that we don't believe that legalisation is in the public interest"
 real 56k

Friday, 6 July, 2001, 10:00 GMT 11:00 UK
'Legalise cannabis' says Lilley
Cannabis
Lilley's comments have reignited the cannabis debate
Peter Lilley, the former deputy leader of the Conservative Party, is calling for cannabis to be legalised and sold through special off-licences.

In a pamphlet published by the Social Market Foundation think tank, Mr Lilley argues the law on cannabis use is "unenforceable and indefensible".


We are forcing cannabis users into the arms of hard drugs pushers. It is that link I wish to break

Peter Lilley
The former cabinet minister believes one of the biggest handicaps of the Tories' general election campaign was the perception that the party's policies were negative and punitive.

Drug pressure groups have welcomed the comments but the government dismissed them saying it would maintain the ban on cannabis.

Mr Lilley is the most senior politician to come out in favour of legalising the drug, although former Cabinet Office Minister Mo Mowlam has called for it to be decriminalised.

Ann Widdecombe
Widdecombe: Danger of more hard drugs

He told BBC News: "We are forcing cannabis users into the arms of hard drugs pushers. It is that link I wish to break."

The Conservative Party needed to reach out to young people and those from ethnic minorities, who came up against this law and knew it was "ridiculous".

Widdecombe's warning

Those on the authoritarian wing of the party have already moved to oppose his ideas.

Shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe warned: "I would myself wonder what we expect the big drug barons to do if we legalise cannabis.

"I think it's very unlikely that they would go home.

"It's far more likely that they would put a huge amount of their effort into marketing hard drugs and probably targeting ever younger age groups."

Rethink

Under Mr Lilley's proposals, magistrates could licence outlets selling cannabis to over-18s.

There would be limits on the amount sold and the drug would be taxed and carry a health warning.

Cultivation for personal use would be permitted.

Mr Lilley is not the only Tory MP who is seeking to review the party's position on drugs.

Peter Lilley
Peter Lilley: existing laws are unenforceable
Speaking on BBC 1's Question Time, shadow chancellor Michael Portillo said the Tories had to be prepared to engage in a debate about calls for the legalisation of cannabis.

Saying the arguments on both sides were finely balanced, Mr Portillo continued: "We should be the party that is open to new thinking... yes, we would consider this question."

Mr Lilley is calling on the other leadership contenders to make it known where they stand on decriminalisation of cannabis.

Not authoritarian monsters

Another leadership hopeful, Iain Duncan Smith, said on Question Time: "Let's not immediately leap to conclusions that those who do not want to liberalise it are monsters of authoritarian nature.

"They are just people who want to protect their families and worry as we all do."

Michael Ancram, Ken Clarke and David Davis said they too currently opposed legalisation but were willing to have a debate on the issue.

Mr Clarke told BBC News on Friday "an alternative, slightly druggie lifestyle" had emerged from relaxing cannabis law in Amsterdam and Kingston, Jamaica, which he did not want to see in Britain.

Many of the same dealers currently selling drugs illegally would sell legalised cannabis, said Mr Clarke, who argued more people could be led onto hard drugs.

He dismissed the suggestion the issue could cause a split in the party.

Charity support

Drugs charity Release welcomed Mr Lilley's comments, saying the debate on cannabis has come on "in leaps and bounds" in recent months.

The prime minister's official spokesman said on Friday: "Cannabis is dangerous, it does cause medical problems, cancer, hallucinations - therefore the position has not changed."

He added: "People are perfectly at liberty to express their views. The government is aware that there is a debate going on. But the government has made its position very clear."

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See also:

30 Jun 01 | UK Politics
Blunkett targets young offenders
01 Jul 01 | UK
Cannabis price plummets
02 Jul 01 | UK Politics
Cannabis 'not being decriminalised'
31 May 01 | UK
'Pain drove me to pot'
08 Oct 00 | UK Politics
Tory admission sparks dope debate
06 Jul 01 | UK Politics
The drugs debate
06 Jul 01 | UK Politics
Lilley: Man of ideas
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