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The BBC's Reeta Chakrabarti
"The government remains against change"
 real 56k

Liberal Democrat MP Simon Hughes
"There is a perfectly proper debate to have"
 real 28k

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

Labour MP Paul Flynn discusses the issues
with Calvina Flay of the prohibitionist Drug Free Foundation in Florida
 real 28k

Friday, 6 July, 2001, 15:11 GMT 16:11 UK
Call to legalise cannabis rejected
Cannabis
Lilley's comments have reignited the cannabis debate
Downing Street says it will not change its policy on cannabis despite a former Conservative cabinet minister throwing open the debate on legalising the drug.

Former Tory deputy leader Peter Lilley called on Friday for the drug to be made legal, arguing the current law 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
While drug pressure groups welcomed the comments and the growing debate on cannabis, the government said its policy to keep the ban remained unchanged.

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

He 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

Downing Street said people were free to express their views. It knew there was a debate but the government had made its view clear.

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

Mr Lilley told BBC News earlier: "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 it was unlikely drug barons would "go home" if cannabis was legalised.

"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 - set out in a Social Market Foundation pamphlet - 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.

Peter Lilley
Peter Lilley: existing laws are unenforceable
Cultivation for personal use would be permitted.

Mr Lilley wants the candidates for the Tory leadership to make their positions clear on the issue - something they had begun to do on BBC1's Question Time on Thursday.

Shadow chancellor Michael Portillo said the Tories had to be prepared to engage in a debate about calls for the legalisation of cannabis.

The arguments were finely balanced on both sides and the party had to be "open to new thinking", he said.

Not authoritarian monsters

Another leadership hopeful, Iain Duncan Smith, said: "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."

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.

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.

And Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Simon Hughes said his party would be looking at all aspects of drugs policy in a "wide-ranging, no holds barred" report likely to suggest changes.

But former Labour Home Office Minister Mike O'Brien rejected the legalisation calls and accused Mr Lilley of encouraging people to use cannabis - something the Tory MP has denied.

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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
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