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Thursday, 19 July, 2001, 15:38 GMT 16:38 UK
Don't hold your breath on cannabis
Cannabis plants
Cannabis debate will have no effect
Nick Assinder

So a majority of Labour MPs who expressed a preference say they might, under certain circumstances, back moves to decriminalise cannabis.

Their views were published in a survey for the BBC World at One programme as veteran left-winger David Winnick claimed the drug would be decriminalised by the end of this parliament.

And they come against a background of growing opposition to the continuing prohibition of the drug.

Many police chiefs want to take the gangster element out of the drugs trade.

Even Michael Portillo suggested he was not wholly convinced of the continuing ban on the use of cannabis.

Rolling a joint
Blair will not be sidetracked by cannabis
And, of course, there is the running debate over whether it should be allowed for medicinal use.

No advantage

It is a live issue and there is plenty of evidence to suggest that the public are far more relaxed about the use of cannabis than they may have been even a decade ago.

But there is absolutely no chance this government will give house room to moves towards decriminalisation, or even the creation of a Royal Commission.

There is no political advantage in it and there may be a significant downside.

Home Secretary David Blunkett was recently reported to be open minded over decriminalisation because he said he welcomed a debate on the issue.

His comments were misunderstood. He was simply trying to placate the pro-decriminalisation lobby while, at the same time, offering no promises.

The simple truth is that, irrespective of all the arguments, there is no way this government is going to allow itself to be sidetracked.

It has learned the lesson of the fox hunting fiasco and Section 28 debacle.

They may well have been worthy issues, but they bogged down the legislative programme and were, frankly, more trouble than they were worth.

Smack on the wrist

Downing Street has made the prime minister's position crystal clear.

Until there is concrete evidence that cannabis is not harmful and is not a "gateway" drug there will be no changes to the current laws.

Individual police forces, like Lambeth, may decide to, in effect, ignore individual possession of the drug.

Frankly, nowadays, you have to be extremely unlucky - or living in a particularly hard-line police authority area - to receive anything other than a slap on the wrist for possessing a small amount of the drug.

Police forces are just too hard pressed to bother with small time dope users.

And this may, ultimately be the way forward - as it has been in many states in the US.

But, while the pro-cannabis lobby may be winning support left, right and centre, it should not runaway with the idea that this government is going to change tack.

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See also:

19 Jul 01 | UK Politics
Labour MPs in cannabis shift
06 Jul 01 | UK Politics
The drugs debate
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