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Tuesday, 17 July, 2001, 15:14 GMT 16:14 UK
Ex-health minister: 'Legalise cannabis'
Cannabis plants growing in greenhouse
Some MPs are calling for cannabis to be legalised
A former Labour minister has launched a parliamentary bid to legalise cannabis.

One-time Welsh Health Minister Jon Owen Jones plans to introduce a bill to legalise the drug for both recreational and medicinal use, licensed for sale alongside alcohol at premises such as off licences.

Jon Owen Jones
Jon Owen Jones: Call for change
The Cardiff Central MP has admitted he smoked the drug several times while at university.

Mr Jones called for a "radical solution" and said the House of Commons was the place to hold "an adult debate" on the issue - but the proposal is likely to fall flat without government support.

His call came two weeks after Conservative MP Peter Lilley surprised party colleagues with his call to legalise the drug to break the link between hard and soft drugs.

Party line

Mr Jones has based his call along similar lines.

He said Government policies were not working despite towing the party line as Welsh Health Minister between 1998 and 1999.

"I always thought this privately," he told BBC Wales. "But my role was to mitigate against the effects of drug use rather than to prosecute people.

"I didn't think then - and I don't think now - that cannabis is a relatively harmful pursuit.

Alcohol and tobacco are clearly far more harmful drugs than cannabis and I believe that the prohibition of cannabis actually works against the country

Jon Owen Jones MP

"Alcohol and tobacco are clearly far more harmful drugs than cannabis and I believe that the prohibition of cannabis actually works against the country."

Mr Jones said there are many dangerous pursuits which the government does not regulate, and said cannabis gave drug pushers more money to sell harder drugs.

'Huge profits'

"It produces huge profits for organised crime which is able to use those profits to sell other, much more harmful drugs to people," he added.

"It is working to create huge profits on which an international drug cartel works and that undermines civic society.

Cannabis cigarette being rolled
"A high proportion of young people smoke cannabis"
"Cannabis is a far less harmful drug than almost all the other drugs that you are likely to mention.

"We have tried the prohibition route for 30 years and it obviously, patently isn't working."

'Enjoyed cannabis'

Last October, Mr Jones - a former teacher who narrowly won his constituency over the Liberal Democrats in the 2001 election - admitted smoking and enjoying cannabis several times when he was a student, but said he had not indulged in more than 20 years.

There is scientific evidence to suggest that cannabis may be useful in treating a wide range of conditions.

Tests indicate it may be be able to help reduce the side effects of chemotherapy treatment given to cancer patients.

Official Home Office figures show a third of adults in England and Wales have used the drug.

Newport West MP Paul Flynn is also a vocal critic of strict drug laws.

But anti-drugs campaigners have said the policy, if successful, would be an open door to increased drug abuse.

Jon Owen Jones
"Cannabis is a relatively harmless pursuit"

Drugs deal?
Should cannabis be sold in off licences?
See also:

08 Oct 00 | Scotland
Rifkind defends 'dope-smoking' MPs
06 Jul 01 | UK Politics
The drugs debate
05 Jul 01 | Health
Cannabis 'not medical panacea'
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