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Monday, 22 April, 2002, 05:25 GMT 06:25 UK
'Legalise cocaine' says Lib Dem MP
Cocaine "should not be left to boys on the streets"

Cocaine should be legalised and heroin made more available on the NHS, a leading Liberal Democrat MP has suggested.

Frontbencher Jenny Tonge said in an interview with BBC News Online that she had sympathy with the view that cocaine should be available over the counter like alcohol.

She said the UK's drugs policy was not working and needed a radical overhaul.

"I think cocaine is a difficult one, but I would agree with a lot of people that you would do less damage if cocaine was actually legalised and sold at registered outlets like alcohol than leaving it to the boys on the streets," she said.


You may get more addicts but you would have a whole lot more money to treat those addicts

Jenny Tonge
The Liberal Democrat international development spokeswoman added: "I am not claiming to have the answers, but I am saying that present drugs policy is not working."

She went on: "The way cannabis is treated is a joke, a complete joke. That should be used like tobacco, taxed like tobacco [and] let's spend the VAT on something."

Dr Tonge admitted there would still be a black market for drugs if more were legalised - but pointed out there was a black market for tobacco and alcohol.

'Normal lives'

"It would be surely less. And there will be no excuse at all for an addict having to commit crimes to feed their habit.

Jenny Tonge
Dr Tonge: No easy answers on drugs - but overhaul of policy needed
"You may get more addicts, that's another downside, but then you'd have a whole lot more money in the form of VAT to treat those addicts."

On heroin, she said the drug should be "medicalised" in order to treat addicts on the NHS.

She said heroin users might then be able to lead normal lives.

"You can't do that if they having to commit crime all the time to feed their habit," she said. "You can only do it if they are getting it anyway."

Liberal Democrat policy calls for the legalisation of cannabis and the abolition of jail sentences for personal use of all other drugs.

'Radical' NHS reform

Dr Tonge also said there must be major reform of how the NHS was funded.

She said she feared no party would be brave enough to put enough money on tax to properly fund health services.

But her party was "coming round" to the idea of taking health service funding out of general taxation.

Heroin
Heroin costs the UK millions each year in terms of crime
"People have got to get used to the idea of paying a lot more for the health service or even using top ups, saying 'well, after I am 80 I don't care what happens to me'.

"I know what my parents would have said: 'We'll look after ourselves and die after that'. That sounds incredibly radical but it may be the sort of choice that people could have."

She pointed to the US state of Oregon where people are asked regularly about their priorities for health care and receive treatment for their top choices but fund the rest themselves.

She stressed she was "thinking out loud - none of that is policy".

She said there also had to be a limit to what the NHS provided "in terms of sort of personal lifestyle choices" such as infertility treatments for women over the age of 50.


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22 Apr 02 | UK Politics
08 Mar 02 | Americas
12 Mar 02 | UK Politics
12 Apr 02 | UK Politics
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