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Thursday, 19 July, 2001, 15:02 GMT 16:02 UK
Labour MPs in cannabis shift
Cannabis roll-up
The government is opposed to legalising cannabis
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 in saying 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 laws.

"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 decriminalisation.

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."

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See also:

06 Jul 01 | UK Politics
Call to legalise cannabis rejected
30 Jun 01 | UK Politics
Blunkett targets young offenders
02 Jul 01 | UK Politics
Cannabis 'not being decriminalised'
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