The Most Rev Richard Holloway, head of the Scottish Episcopal Church, equated the drugs debate to that which led to votes for women and said that banning cannabis use was akin to banning cream sherry.
"I don't think it can be seen as a crime," the bishop told Radio Scotland. "Something that people want to do in enough numbers and which does not harm others is not a crime. Some people for some reason like to drink cream sherry. We may not like it but we would not forbid it.
"As long as it is handled in a responsible way and we teach young people to live moderately and to use recreational substances moderately, then that is the wise policy."
The bishop's remarks were heavily criticised by John Orr, Chief Constable of Strathclyde, where there have been nearly 100 drug-related deaths so far this year. Mr Orr said: "Cannabis is the first step down the rocky road to disaster. There is clear evidence that some of these people started on cannabis. They find that they just don't get the buzz out of it and move on to harder drugs."
Asked specifically about the bishop's statements, Mr Orr replied: "He should try telling that to some of the relatives who are left or someone who has been assaulted or slashed when blurred behaviour has led to attacks." Lyndsay McIntosh, law and order spokeswoman for the Scottish Conservatives, said she believed the bishop should step down. "The idea that cannabis is a recreational drug that won't hurt you is nonsense. Whether you take it in a cake or through a pipe, it does damage you."
The bishop's comments came as he launched his new book, Godless Morality, at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. In it, he argues that politicians have difficult choices to make and raises the question of heroin being made available to addicts to stop the illegal trade in the drug.
At the weekend, he said he "took a puff from someone's joint for an experimental reason a few years ago and got nothing from it". Asked yesterday whether his admission would encourage young people to think drugs were "OK", he replied: "Drugs clearly are OK. The drugs that I prefer are alcohol and the odd cigar - these are drugs, these are natural drugs. They're not illegal and that gets us to the point of the debate: why do we in an arbitrary way say that this vegetable can be used but that vegetable can't?" Britain was in a state of "constructural hypocrisy" because "millions" of people, as he had done, broke the law and took cannabis, he said. "The police... tend to turn a bit of a blind eye - certainly in Scotland - to users and won't turn a blind eye to dealers. I think the use of cannabis has become fairly normative in certain sections of culture in our country and that's the way moral evolution takes place."
Our primitive fear of drugs,
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