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Thursday, 2 August, 2001, 10:34 GMT 11:34 UK
Drug czar attacks cannabis debate
Person rolling cannabis joint
The debate about cannabis legalisation is heated
Drug czar Keith Hellawell has launched a veiled attack on politicians and public figures saying they have undermined the "clarity" of the official stance on cannabis.

The government's outgoing anti-drugs co-ordinator published his third and final annual report on Thursday.

Seizures of hard drugs rose by 4% according to figures for 1999, the latest data available, and the number of people dealt with in Britain for supplying Class A drugs jumped more than 17%, according to the report.

Clarity ... about the stance on legalisation ought to be endorsed and ought to be supported by some people who don't

Keith Hellawell
Drugs tsar
"We still have a lot to do - but the report shows what can be achieved when we work together to tackle the drugs problem, especially the problem of Class A drugs, the drugs which do most harm," said Mr Hellawell.

But he told the BBC that the way the issue of legalisation or decriminalisation of drugs was discussed set a bad example to children.

And he criticised those who had tried to elevate cannabis to the top of the drug control agenda when the more serious effects of Class A drugs were at the heart of policy.

It was announced in June that 59-year-old Mr Hellawell was being sidelined with a move to a part-time advisory role, focusing on international aspects of drug policy.

Drug trend

His final report will still be scrutinised for any changes in the government's stand against the decriminalisation of cannabis.

Mr Hellawell told BBC Breakfast: "We've got a trend with children being attracted to these substances.

Keith Hellawell
Mr Hellawell's job has been made part-time
"Sometimes some of the debate which suggests we are going to change policy on some of these substances almost encourages [them].

"Clarity... about the stance on legalisation ought to be endorsed and ought to be supported by some people who don't.

"I'm not saying it encourages them but it leaves the door open if people they admire and respect are saying this is an issue you shouldn't worry about."

But he added: "Overall, drug use in this country seems to have plateau-ed."

Minister's thanks

Mr Hellawell was appointed as a US-style anti-drugs co-ordinator after the 1997 general election but has been sidelined since David Blunkett took over as home secretary.

But Home Office minister Beverley Hughes gave a public vote of gratitude to Mr Hellawell.

Overall, drug use in this country seems to have plateau-ed

Keith Hellawell
"I'd like to place firmly on the record the thanks of David Blunkett for the excellent work Keith Hellawell and his deputy Mike Trace have done over the last three years," she said.

They had "played a vital role in setting the foundations for the future and driving forward progress to date", she added.

Last month, Mr Blunkett hinted policy could eventually change on the legalisation of cannabis, calling for an "adult, intelligent" debate on the issue.

He has already ordered police to concentrate on heroin and crack cocaine dealers rather than cannabis users.

Licensed shops

The debate on the UK's drug laws was heightened last week when the all-party Commons Home Affairs Select Committee announced it would hold an investigation into decriminalisation of hard and soft drugs this autumn.

Police in Brixton, south London, have become the first in the UK to formally "turn a blind eye" to possession of small amounts of cannabis, and now deal with the crime by an official warning rather than arrest.

Last month Mo Mowlam, the former head of the government's anti-drugs policy, called for cannabis to be legalised.

Other high-profile public figures to have called for decriminalisation include former ambassador to Colombia Keith Morris, former chief inspector of prisons Sir David Ramsbotham and former chief constable of Gwent Francis Wilkinson.

Senior Tory Peter Lilley also said cannabis should be sold in licensed shops, in the same way as tobacco or alcohol.

The BBC's June Kelly
"Keith Hellawell leaves his job after being sidelined by the government"
Frances Wilkinson, patron of drugs charity Transform
"There are drugs everywhere"
See also:

06 Jul 01 | UK Politics
'Legalise cannabis' says Lilley
08 Oct 00 | UK Politics
Tory admission sparks dope debate
11 Oct 00 | UK
UK tops drugs survey
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