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Saturday, 14 October, 2000, 11:17 GMT 12:17 UK
Minister admits cannabis past
Yvette Cooper
Yvette Cooper: Like a lot of students at the time
Public Health Minister Yvette Cooper has become the first serving minister to admit smoking cannabis but Tony Blair has confirmed he is against decriminalising cannabis.

Ms Cooper told BBC Radio 4's Any Questions? programme she had tried the drug.

"I did try cannabis while at university, like a lot of students at that time, and it is something that I have left behind."

She is the first serving minister to admit smoking cannabis since shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe outlined her zero tolerance policy.


I'm not sticking to it doggedly, obstinately for the sake of it

Tony Blair
Her proposals of 100 fines for people caught with any amount of cannabis prompted eight Tory ministers to admit they had used the drug in the past.

Prime Minister Tony Blair told BBC Radio 4's Today programme he was against the legalisation of cannabis.

"I think what is important is not what happened on some university campus years ago in respect of particular ministers or particular opposition spokesmen," he said.

"What is important is making sure we fight organised crime and the drugs trade, which is exactly what we are doing.

"There are some inner city areas in our country where 50, 60, 70% of the crime is drug-related," Mr Blair said.

No Royal Commission

The prime minister ruled out establishing a Royal Commission to examine whether cannabis should be legalised.

"There is a policy that I happened to believe in. I'm not sticking to it doggedly, obstinately for the sake of it," he said.

"I don't think it is a very sensible thing to send out a signal that you now want to legalise drugs," he said.


It doesn't affect the big debate today about how you tackle the drugs problems

Yvette Cooper

Ms Cooper insisted her confession on Friday should not affect her competence in office.

"It doesn't affect the big debate today about how you tackle the drugs problems, which is very serious," she said.

Ms Cooper, married to Chancellor Gordon Brown's chief economic adviser Ed Balls, was joined in her admission by former Chancellor Norman Lamont who admitted trying a cake laced with cannabis.

Revelations

Ms Widdecombe's pledge to slap a 100 fine on anyone found with cannabis - no matter how small the amount - prompted a string of admissions by shadow cabinet members Peter Ainsworth, Francis Maude, Lord Strathclyde Bernard Jenkin, David Willets, Archie Norman, Oliver Letwin and Tim Yeo.

Her proposals were attacked by police, and Tory leader William Hague quickly said they needed further "consultation".

Cannabis plant outside Parliament
Eight Tory MPs said they had smoked dope in the past
Another government minister to hit the headlines by admitting smoking cannabis was Mo Mowlam, long before the Tory revelations.

Former Welsh Office junior minister, Jon Owen Jones - who is currently MP for Cardiff Central - broke Labour ranks on Thursday by saying he had used the drug when he was a young man.

He had previously declined to say whether or not he had used cannabis but said the recent debate on decriminalisation had caused him to change his mind.

Labour backbencher Paul Flynn is a long-time campaigner for the drug to be legalised.

He said he despaired at Mr Straw's attitude.

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See also:

10 Oct 00 | UK Politics
Straw: Cannabis debate welcome
08 Oct 00 | Wales
'Avoid drug deaths' plea by MP
08 Oct 00 | UK Politics
Senior Tories 'smoked dope'
08 Oct 00 | Scotland
Rifkind defends 'dope-smoking' MPs
05 Oct 00 | Conservatives
Widdecombe stands by drugs policy
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