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Sunday, 2 April, 2000, 05:41 GMT 06:41 UK
Straw attacked over drug stance
rolling joint
The government has ruled out relaxing drug laws
A Labour backbencher has criticised as "ill-informed scare-mongering" the home secretary's belief that legalising cannabis would attract drug tourists to Britain.

Paul Flynn, the MP for Newport West, called for a legal but licensed and controlled market and attacked the UK's drug laws as "mindless prohibition".

He was speaking after an article by Mr Straw in the News of the World, in which the home secretary accepted there was a "coherent argument" for legalising cannabis.

paul flynn MP
Paul Flynn: UK has 'mindless prohibition'
But Mr Straw insisted the case for doing so was fatally flawed.

The UK would "almost certainly... take over from the Netherlands as the centre for Europe's drug trade", he said.

He stressed the government would continue to take a "cautious" approach to proposals for drugs law reform.

Mr Flynn commented: "Britain has the harshest laws in Europe and the worst drug problems.

"Countries with pragmatic, intelligent laws have fewer problems. The UK's mindless prohibition is doing more harm than the drugs themselves."

He added: "The only way to reduce harm is to replace the irresponsible, illegal market with a legal, licensed one that can be regulated, policed and controlled."

Cannabis 'low priority'

Meanwhile, the head of the Metropolitan Police John Stevens said he would not mind if cannabis was legalised.

Speaking on a fact-finding mission to New York, Sir John said: "In London, with robberies and murders up, cannabis cannot be a priority.

"If cannabis was legalised we'd be fine with it because that's a policeman's job. I'd work with it."

However, Scotland Yard made it clear the Commissioner was not calling for the drug to be legalised or decriminalised.

"He was saying it's our duty to enforce the law as it stands. Any change in the law is a matter for Parliament," a spokesman said.

The current debate on drugs law follows the publication last week of a report by the Police Foundation - a charity partly funded by the Home Office - which advocated easing up on people who used "soft" drugs such as ecstasy and cannabis.

The report recommended the "depenalisation" of soft drug use, including an end to prison sentences for cannabis and ecstasy users and making cannabis possession a civil offence.

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See also:

01 Apr 00 | UK Politics
MPs 'want drug law changes'
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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