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The BBC's Kim Catcheside reports
"There is a significant minority of MPs who want drug laws to be relaxed"
 real 28k

Dame Ruth Runciman and the Bishop of Hulme
"We need the government to open their minds"
 real 28k

Saturday, 1 April, 2000, 08:55 GMT 09:55 UK
MPs 'want drug law changes'
The government rejected calls to downgrade ecstasy
More than half of MPs questioned in a BBC survey are in favour of relaxing drug laws.

The poll, conducted for Radio 4's Today programme, quizzed MPs on their attitudes towards soft drugs.

Of those asked, 42 were in favour, while a further 39 said they would like to see the law changed to allow the medicinal use of cannabis for people with illnesses such as multiple sclerosis.

The survey follows a government rejection of calls to exempt from jail people caught with small amounts of cannabis or ecstasy.

There is a major shift among a vast cross section of MPs who want to see a sensible re-appraisal of the whole question

Bob Marshall-Andrews MP
The Police Foundation, a panel of senior police officers, lawyers and drugs experts, recommended sweeping reforms including an end to the ban on the medicinal use of cannabis.

Wrong signals

But the report was completely rebuffed by the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, who said the move would send out the wrong signals.

Of the MPs who wanted the law changed, 55 were Labour, seven were Conservative and 17 were Liberal Democrat.

Bob Marshall-Andrews, Labour MP for Medway in Kent, told the BBC: "There is a major shift among a vast cross section of MPs who want to see a sensible re-appraisal of the whole question of the criminalisation of narcotics.

"Very, very senior police officers have been saying for a long time that the link between narcotics and criminal behaviour is causing immense problems and a vast increase in crime."

Bob Marshall-Andrews MP
Bob Marshall-Andrews says it is time to look again at drug laws
Dame Ruth Runciman, who chaired the Police Foundation report, said she was very encouraged by support for change to drug legislation not only from MPs but also from newspapers as diverse as The Guardian and the Daily Mail.

Even the Daily Telegraph has called for cannabis to be legalised for an experimental period.

The Bishop of Hulme in Manchester, Stephen Lowe, said there is often a "kneejerk reaction" against relaxing drug laws.

He told the Today programme: "It is 30 years since the Drug Misuse Act was last looked at and the scene has changed phenomenally in that time and it seems to me there is a major case for a Royal Commission on the subject."

The bishop said he was not being "lax" on drugs but wanted the link between cannabis and hard drugs such as heroin and cocaine broken.

Dame Ruth said she felt "dejected" by calls for a Royal Commission because she felt it would simply be going over the work that her report dealt with.

Home Secretary Jack Straw, speaking on Saturday, pointed out the government did not have a closed mind on the issue and said: "There are currently scientific trials licensed by the Home Office to see whether cannabis is suitable for medicinal use."

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See also:

28 Mar 00 | UK Politics
Drugs policy change rejected
04 Dec 98 | Medical notes
Cannabis: The debate
16 Feb 00 | UK Politics
Drugs debate stays behind cabinet doors
05 Feb 00 | UK Politics
Hellawell: Relax cannabis policing
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