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Wednesday, 18 October, 2000, 16:07 GMT 17:07 UK
Government stands by cannabis policy
Smoking cannabis
Illegal, if the government sticks to its policy
Decriminalising the possession and use of cannabis would be "irresponsible", the home office minister, Lord Bassam of Brighton, has said.

His comments came as a survey in Accountancy Age suggested that a third of Britain's top bosses had tried cannabis.

The government has a firm and consistent view about the harm that drugs do

Lord Bassam
After the controversy over members of the Conservative shadow cabinet admitting to having tried the illegal drug, 250 financial directors were asked whether they had tried cannabis.

A total of 33% said they had, and 61% said they had not. The remaining 6% declined to answer.

Controlled drug

Lord Bassam, speaking at question time in the Lords, said there was an "important distinction" between medical use of cannabis and recreational use.

Lord Bassam said some 1.5 million people would have used cannabis in the last month, compared with 42 million alcohol users and 12 million tobacco smokers.

The estimated cost of the impact on the health services of treatment and rehabilitation was in the region of 137m, he said.

"Those explanations begin to get to the root cause behind our policy thinking, which is to take a very firm view against the legalisation and decriminalisation of cannabis," said Lord Bassam.

He stressed that cannabis was a controlled drug for "good scientific reasons" and research on its impact on health was continuing.

A study sponsored by the US Government's National Institute on Drug Abuse had shown that the addictive effect on laboratory animals of cannabis' psychoactive ingredient THC was similar to cocaine, he said.

Negative effects

"Decriminalising the possession and use of cannabis would be irresponsible," he argued.

"The government has a firm and consistent view about the harm that drugs do and is opposed to any lessening of the controls on currently illicit drugs."

Lord Bassam said his local newspaper, the Evening Argus in Brighton, had featured a Portslade man whose mother claimed that cannabis addiction had made him barely recognisable by the age of 25.

The drug had "turned him into a schizophrenic who suffered psychotic tendencies and hallucinations".

"I think that underlines very firmly the problems that rest if we go along the course of decriminalisation and legalisation that some people are now urging us," said Lord Bassam.

The minister was supported by Labour's Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate, former president of the Chief Superintendents' Association, who stressed: "Any relaxation in the law relating to cannabis would be absolute and utter folly."

Stance mocked

But a Tory peer, Lord Mancroft, who chairs the Drug and Alcohol Foundation and the Addiction Recovery Foundation, said cannabis was not "all that addictive and not all that dangerous" in the scheme of "dangerous things in this world".

The use by successive governments of the criminal justice system in dealing with cannabis - "a health and social problem" - had produced "no results" and had led to "a massive increase in drug use", he said.

Lord Bassam replied: "It would be a foolish government indeed, wouldn't it, that ignored the health impacts of a drug like cannabis?"

He added: "It may well be a drug which is less addictive than other drugs, but addictive it is nonetheless and we need to warn people of that problem."

A Liberal Democrat, Lord McNally, said his party had called for a royal commission on the issue almost a decade ago.

He mocked the minister: "It is really sad when we are still making policy, apparently, on the basis of the Brighton Argus rather than a considered study of this question."

But Lord Bassam insisted the government had no plans for a royal commission although it was prepared to listen to the advice of institutions like the Advisory Council for Misuse of Drugs.

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See also:

17 Oct 00 | UK Politics
Widdecombe defiant on drugs
10 Oct 00 | UK Politics
Eighth Tory admits cannabis use
11 Oct 00 | UK
UK tops drugs survey
14 Oct 00 | UK Politics
Minister admits cannabis past
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