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Saturday, 9 March, 2002, 21:46 GMT
Lib Dems back radical drug policy
The Liberal Democrats have voted in favour of the legalisation of cannabis - the first main UK party to support such a radical move.
The party's leadership had recommended decriminalising the drug but delegates went a step further and chose legalisation, at the spring conference in Manchester.
Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Simon Hughes said the move was "responsible, realistic and progressive".
Describing the prosecution of cannabis users as "a waste of time", he said his party's approach stood for "help for the addict, punishment for the dealer".
Afterwards, Mr Kennedy said that taken as a whole, the package - which calls for more rehabilitation facilities and tougher sentences for those caught selling drugs near schools - was an appropriate response to the problem.
But the Labour party denounced the move, saying the Liberal Democrats had "lost touch with the real world" where drugs policy is concerned.
"Ecstasy is a dangerous drug that kills and grading it from Class A to Class B would be foolhardy and irresponsible," a spokeswoman said.
"Abolishing jail sentences for drugs like cocaine and heroin would lead to more drug use and more drug-related crime."
Delegates conceded that legalising cannabis would take time to implement.
But in the meantime, they would no longer prosecute people for possessing or growing the drug for their own use.
The Liberal Democrats' controversial decision risks alienating some of the disaffected Tories Mr Kennedy hopes to attract.
Earlier, Mr Kennedy said that having the confidence and maturity to discuss the issue honestly and openly did the party "no harm".
Mr Hughes said delegates had been carefully considering the issues for two years, and that there were "close votes on some of the issues under debate".
"If we were to abolish imprisonment for possession, and therefore for use, of Class A drugs, we would be sending entirely the wrong message to the public at large and especially to young people, about hard drugs," he said.
But another speaker, Harriet Smith, countered that imprisoning drug users simply does not work.
"They've already lost their jobs, their homes and their families," she said. "Prison won't help, and it probably won't deter. In fact it can make matters far worse.
"I know people who have gone inside clean and come out seriously addicted."
Mr Kennedy will address the party on Sunday.
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