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Keith Hellawell
"The problem is largely related to heroin and cocaine"
 real 28k

Francis Wilkinson, former chief constable
"Alcohol is much more serious than cannabis"
 real 28k

Monday, 9 October, 2000, 09:58 GMT 10:58 UK
Zero tolerance 'would not work'
Person smoking joint
Many people want cannabis to be legalised
The UK's drugs czar Keith Hellawell has said that a zero tolerance approach to drugs "just would not work".

Mr Hellawell's comments come as the Conservatives fall under growing pressure to reconsider their tough stance on cannabis announced by Ann Widdecombe at the party conference.

Calls for a review of the policy, which includes plans for a fixed fine for cannabis users, followed admissions by seven senior Tories that they had smoked the drug.

Now Mr Hellawell has added his weight to the argument, calling zero tolerance "unrealistic and impracticable".

Keith Hellawell
Keith Hellawell: "Unrealistic"
Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Hellawell suggested that implementing a crackdown on cannabis users would be missing the point.

"The problem in this country with drugs is largely related to heroin and cocaine," he said.

"The drugs strategy that we have, which is laid out over 10 years, directs our attention to that, and yet people will keep still coming forward believing that either legalisation of cannabis, or a very hard line on cannabis is going to resolve the issue."

He said laws against drugs were broken less often than laws against some other crimes, such as theft.

"Nobody would suggest that because we don't stop every act of theft or every act of violence, the law should either be discounted or the law should be acted upon in a way that we would find oppressive in this country.

"You've got to set drugs within the general context of a legal system in a democratic society."

Call for change in law

Mr Hellawell insisted that cannabis could be very damaging and was twice as carcinogenic as tobacco.

But another former chief constable, the former head of Gwent Police, Francis Wilkinson, is calling for a change in the law, arguing that cannabis is less damaging to society than legal tobacco and alcohol.

Mr Wilkinson, who is the patron of Transform, a body lobbying for drug law reform, said it was time that cannabis was debated, demystified and decriminalised.

"There is an enormous illegal industry growing fat on the prohibition of a drug that is less harmful than either alcohol or tobacco," he said in a pamphlet published on Monday entitled The Leaf and the Law.

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See also:

09 Oct 00 | UK Politics
Tories feel heat over drugs
05 Oct 00 | Conservatives
Widdecombe stands by drugs policy
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