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Tuesday, 10 October, 2000, 11:49 GMT 12:49 UK
Yeo widens drugs debate
Shadow Agriculture minister Tim Yeo
Tim Yeo has confirmed what many suspected
By BBC News Online's political correspondent Nick Assinder

At last a politician has confessed not just to smoking cannabis, but to enjoying it.

Until Tory Tim Yeo made his reported remarks, not a single MP or minister who had admitted using the drug said it was enjoyable.


I was offered [cannabis] on occasion and enjoyed it. I think it can be a much pleasanter experience than having too much to drink

Tim Yeo in The Times
Apparently it either had no effect, was unpleasant or made them feel sick.

Strange, then, that tens of thousands of people are said to use the drug regularly and thoroughly enjoy it. Why else would they do it?

But, until Mr Yeo came clean, this was the level the so-called debate on drugs had reached.

Most politicians, with the notable exception of the Liberal Democrats, would run a mile when confronted with the issue.

It was deemed to be a massive vote loser and a political bear trap that could only land the MP in deep trouble.

But, thanks to Ann Widdecombe's zero tolerance blunder, the entire subject has been propelled to the top of the political agenda and shadow cabinet ministers are queuing up to admit to having used the drug in the past.

More realistic

And now Mr Yeo has taken things further by suggesting, for the first time, what many people have always known or suspected - smoking cannabis can be pleasant.

His remarks will undoubtedly further embarrass William Hague but they will ensure that the new drugs debate becomes more realistic.

We are now seeing drugs workers, senior police officers, MPs and shadow ministers all calling for a thorough review of the country's drugs laws.

And, whenever any politician is interviewed about anything, its is now quite legitimate for them also to be asked whether they have ever taken cannabis or any other illegal drug.

The government, however, is maintaining its hard line and insisting there will be no relaxation of existing laws.

Labour MPs have all been ordered not to answer "the drugs question", although many ministers appear all too happy to declare they have never even so much as seen a joint.

Put people at risk

Home Secretary Jack Straw, a former student leader, has led those insisting they never tried cannabis.

He has said he welcomes a fresh debate about the entire subject and would be "happy to take part" in it.

But he has also pointed to evidence about the health effects of cannabis and effectively ruled out taking any notice of those calling for change.

He has also made the point that, if the government decriminalised the drug and five or ten years down the line there is a cannabis health scare, he would be blamed for having put people at risk.

It is a powerful argument, particularly in the light of the damage done to governments by the salmonella in eggs, BSE and GM food scares.

So, while the debate may well rage elsewhere, it appears there is little chance of it taking hold in the cabinet.

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See also:

10 Oct 00 | UK Politics
Straw backs drugs debate
09 Oct 00 | UK Politics
Tory U-turn on cannabis
09 Oct 00 | UK Politics
Hague dumps Widdecombe drugs plan
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