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Sunday, 16 January, 2000, 14:02 GMT
Mowlam: I smoked cannabis

Unlike Bill Clinton, Mo Mowlam inhaled her joint

Former Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam has admitted she smoked cannabis as a student.

Dr Mowlam who is now Cabinet Office Minister is head of the government's anti-drugs campaign.

She said she had tried the drug at university and had not enjoyed the experience.

I said I tried marijuana, didn't like it particularly and unlike President Clinton I did inhale.
Mo Mowlam
Ms Mowlam explained in a reference to Bill Clinton that unlike the American President she had "inhaled" marijuana.

Her admission came as drugs czar Keith Hellawell used a television appearance to call for an end to witch hunts of politicians accused of experimenting with drugs before they entered public life.

He said honesty about drug taking was essential for the debate on drug use to take place on a higher level.

Keith Hellawell: Call for honesty over drug use
Ms Mowlam, 50, was pressed about a Sunday Telegraph story saying Tory MPs were calling on her to clarify her past involvement with drugs.

She said: "I haven't made any secret of being a child of the 60s, never have. I wasn't part of the drugs culture, but I have said in previous interviews this isn't a new news story.

"I said I tried marijuana, didn't like it particularly and unlike President Clinton I did inhale. But it wasn't part of my life then and that's what happened."

Ms Mowlam, a Durham University student in the 1960s and a postgraduate politics student at Iowa State University in America in the 1970s, said her experimentation had taken place in America.

She said she was determined to carry on leading the government's anti-drugs campaign.

"I will continue to say to young people, as I have done for the last two months in the job, that taking drugs is not within the law and is not a credible thing to do in your life," she added.

Witch hunts

Mr Hellawell said he would be "very surprised" if a proportion of the 659 MPs had not tried drugs.

But he said there needed to be an atmosphere where people in public life could be honest about drugs.

"If there continues to be a denial, or if there continues to be a label on people - you know, `you are a bad person if you ever took drugs' - then we'll never move forward and there needs to be more of the openness," he told GMTV's The Sunday Programme.

"I think we've got to stop this idea of witch-hunts and pointing the finger. The debate needs to be at a much higher level than that," he added.

Mr Hellawell's anti-drugs unit is part of the Cabinet Office presided over by Ms Mowlam.

He was speaking after newspapers suggested his performance in the job so far had not met expectations.

The government has set a series of targets, including reducing reported heroin and cocaine use among under-25-year-olds and a reduction in repeat offending by drug addicts of 25% by 2005.

But nearly two years into the Government's 10 year anti-drugs strategy, some signs of success were already evident, Mr Hellawell said.

He said he did not know which minister was behind critical briefings in the newspapers.

"People have to change the way they operate and do things in a different way, and I'm sure I've bruised a few egos and a few toes and I suspect people will resent having to change what they've done for a long time," he added.

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