Cannabis Campaign: Labour 'must lead the way on law reform'

Click to follow
ONE OF Britain's most prominent gay activists believes the Labour government is treating the subject of cannabis law reform in the same way that previous Tory administrations dealt with gay rights issues.

The actor Michael Cashman, who was chair of the gay pressure group Stonewall for eight years, wants MPs to "come out of the closet" on their personal experiences of cannabis.

On BBC TV's Question Time last week, Mr Cashman said: "I believe we need decriminalisation of cannabis leading to legalisation, but this is a very difficult subject because no politician will say in public what they say in private."

Mr Cashman warned the Government that it faced mounting criticism if it did not lead public opinion on the subject of cannabis and the law. "I believe the Government has to lead public opinion. The greatest thing we have to fear is that we do nothing because adults are terrified to say there is a drug problem, that it's going on in most families, and that it's on most high streets. To deny that is morally irresponsible."

Question Time chairman David Dimbleby tested his argument in an electronic poll of the studio audience. He asked: "How many of you have ever taken and used, if only once, an illegal drug?" As many as 46 per cent said they had had some illegal drug experience, while 42 per cent said they had no experience, and 12 per cent abstained.

"There is a parallel I have noticed in this issue with my own experiences in Stonewall in negotiating with a hostile Tory government," said Mr Cashman. "We had to deal with them in a language they understood, and could only succeed by steady lobbying to overcome prejudice and blind hypocrisy."

Mr Cashman, who is also a prominent Labour Party supporter, acknowledged that his pro-decrimin- alisation views were likely to be frowned on by the upper echelons of the party. "It is unfortunate but I believe many of us in the wider Labour movement have been looking for a radical change on a whole range of social as well as economic issues. We have stood still in this country for 18 years, I believe the Government should have the integrity to go forward."

At the end of the debate David Dimbleby tested audience opinion once more and asked them whether or not cannabis should be legalised now. Once more the majority (50 per cent) agreed, while 44 per cent said no and 6 per cent remained undecided.

"Most MPs went to university in the 1960s and 1970s, when they must have come across the odd joint or two," said Mr Cashman. "But if they tell me they somehow existed in a hermetically sealed world isolated from what was going on around them, then I have to tell them that the public will simply not believe them."

Meanwhile, the general prosecutor of Italy's highest court has created a storm after advocating the decriminalisation of drugs. Speaking at the inauguration of the judicial year last week, Ferdinando Zucconi Gallifonseca said that while users were imprisoned, dealers invariably escaped to enjoy a life on the beach.

The Italian government failed to respond to the debate last week, but the media have taken up the issue seriously, and thousands of people have written in support of his cause.