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Monday, 24 January, 2000, 16:07 GMT
Senior Lib Dem tried cannabis

Matthew Taylor called for an "intelligent debate" on drugs

Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman Matthew Taylor has become the latest politician to admit having experimented with illegal drugs.

In an interview with BBC News Online Mr Taylor, 37, said he tried cannabis while studying at Oxford in the 1980s - but found the experience "absolutely disgusting" because he was not a cigarette smoker.

Criticising New Labour's approach to tackling drugs, Mr Taylor called for "intelligent debate" on the issue and criticised the government's policies for taking no account of most people's experience - particularly the young.

The government should also differentiate between different kinds of illegal drugs and drug-taking.

Lib Dem mayoral candidate Susan Kramer said last week she had smoked cannabis as a student
"The reality is, as a whole generation of people ever since the 1960s have been well aware, that lots of people at some point in their lives try drugs at some level," he said.

"Some people use them pretty regularly, for some people it really badly messes up their lives."

"There isn't a simple solution to this," he added. "But these are intelligent debates that nobody in politics is having and Labour certainly isn't prepared to have."

Asked if he had ever tried illegal drugs himself, Mr Taylor replied: "Well, if you said had I been to parties and not encountered drugs when I was at college, you must obviously be joking."

'Let them throw the first stone'

In his interview with BBC News Online Mr Taylor said: "We've seen Mo Mowlam saying 'Yes, I did use drugs when I was at university'. Well, I wasn't there in the 1960s, and in the early 1980s we tended to see people who used drugs as washed-up hippies on the whole."

"But there was some dope, and when you went to parties dope was smoked. I've certainly been at parties where dope was smoked."

When asked, he confirmed he had smoked cannabis himself - though found it an unpleasant experience: "I'm not a smoker, so you'd try a drag and all you'd do is cough. It was absolutely disgusting."

Mr Taylor blamed sensationalist press reporting for contributing to an atmosphere that made it difficult to broach the issue of drugs in a sensible manner, and accused journalists of hypocrisy.

"I doubt that there is a tabloid newspaper journalist who hasn't encountered drugs at some point or another," he said. "I suspect that of rather fewer politicians, given the nature of the kind of people who spend all their hours in the student union rather than partying when they're students."

"I'd hope that there wasn't the hypocrisy any more where we've seen politicians condemn people for things which perhaps they did themselves.

"But that's something I've always steered clear of. Let them thrown the first stone."

'Apologist for drug abuse'

Later Andrew Lansley, Conservative spokesman on Tory spokesman on shadow cabinet issues, criticised Mr Taylor for his remarks.

"Apologists for drug abuse are those I will criticise," said Mr Lansley. "The Liberal Democrats' talk about a 'debate' on legalisation. The real issue is action to stem the abuse of drugs of all kinds."

"Every day youngsters are dicing with death and this needs to be tackled. They are mixing ecstasy with all kinds of substances and risking their lives every time.

"This is a serious issue. Politicians of all parties should concentrate on fighting drug abuse rather than promoting a culture of tolerance."

Mr Taylor's comments make him the third politician in a fortnight to admit to having used illegal drugs for recreational purposes.

Last week Cabinet Office Minister Mo Mowlam confirmed reports that she had smoked cannabis as a student.

A few days later Lib Dem London mayoral candidate Susan Kramer said she had occasionally used cannabis as a student.

Mr Taylor is the MP for Truro St Austell. He served as Charles Kennedy's campaign manager during last summer's Liberal Democrat leadership contest.

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See also:
24 Jan 00 |  UK Politics
Tax, drugs and Liberal Democracy
16 Jan 00 |  AudioVideo
Mowlam: I smoked cannabis
17 Jan 00 |  UK Politics
Mowlam has changed drugs debate - MP
22 Jan 00 |  UK Politics
I tried cannabis - Kramer

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