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Wednesday, 10 July, 2002, 15:41 GMT 16:41 UK
Drug adviser quits over policy switch
Rolling a joint
Relaxing the law may widen Labour's youth appeal
The government's former "drugs czar" Keith Hellawell has quit his role as a government adviser over plans to reclassify cannabis as a less dangerous drug.


I am saying these things because I care

Keith Hellawell

Mr Hellawell launched a stinging attack on the proposals, which he claims will damage communities and lead to more drug use.

Home Secretary David Blunkett announced the downgrading of cannabis from Class B to Class C on Wednesday.

He said the move would free-up police resources to fight hard drugs such as heroin and cocaine.

Resignation

Mr Hellawell says he had made his reservations known to Mr Blunkett at a meeting last autumn.

He insisted he was not motivated by spite in speaking out, despite being downgraded from his 106,000-a-year role as the government's drugs czar.

Keith Hellawell
Mr Hellawell has fallen out with the home secretary
"I am saying these things because I care. I care about children and I care about their families," he told BBC News 24.

"It (re-classification) is giving the wrong messages to parents and children.

"It creates a fog. It creates a mire where people don't know which way to go.

"How on earth can you justify messages which appear to soften the approach?"

'Spin' attacked

Mr Hellawell was drafted in by Labour four years ago to take charge of the so-called war on drugs.

But he was sidelined by the government last October and given the reduced role of part-time adviser on international issues.

The former police chief said he had now quit that role as well.

"I have resigned over this issue (cannabis) and over the issue of spin," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

He said he had written to Mr Blunkett to inform him of the reasons his resignation, but had so far had no response.

Government denial

Downing Street said it was "bemused" by Mr Hellawell's decision to announce his resignation now.

It said the former drugs czar had been briefed about the likely change of policy on cannabis last year and indicated his full support.

In three subsequent meetings with the drugs minister Bob Ainsworth he had not expressed any concern, the prime minister's official spokesman said.

Mr Hellawell resigned last month, but at his request the news was not made public.

The spokesman said Prime Minister Tony Blair was grateful for the "good job" Mr Hellawell had done during Labour's first term.

'Inevitable'

Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith said: "Keith Hellawell's decision to resign was a personal blow for the prime minister and punches a huge hole in the government's drugs policies."

Brian Paddick
Brian Paddick introduced Brixton scheme

But Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Simon Hughes, whose party favours cannabis legalisation, said Mr Hellawell's resignation was "inevitable".

"He had become marginalised and was perceived as being increasingly out of touch," he said.

Labour former sport minister Kate Hoey warned that the government could come to regret any move to reclassify cannabis.

Addicts

Mr Blunkett will tell MPs of his support for the reclassification of cannabis later on Wednesday, in response to a report by the Home Affairs Select Committee.

The committee said drugs policy should focus on tackling the problems caused by heroin addicts.

It also recommended moving ecstasy from class A to B, but Mr Blunkett is expected to reject this.

The government signalled its intention to downgrade cannabis last October.

It comes despite a mixed reaction to a "softly, softly" approach to cannabis trialed in London's Brixton.

Amid concern that the move might encourage drug taking, maximum sentences for supplying class C drugs are to be increased from five years up to 14 years.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Daniel Stanford
"Campaigners deny a softer approach will lead youngsters into drug use"
Former government drugs adviser Keith Hellawell
"I'm against it... it's giving the wrong message"
Drugscope's Roger Howard
"Reclassification is sensible and long overdue"

Key stories

Lambeth scheme

Background

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