Cannabis inquiry backed by 27 Labour MPs

'Independent' survey: three members of opposition front bench side with Clare Short in row over legalisation of soft drug
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The Independent Online
A number of Labour MPs support Clare Short's suggestion that there should be an inquiry into the legalisation of cannabis, a survey by the Independent reveals.

Among the 91 MPs responding - accounting for a third of the parliamentary party - 27 said the legal status of cannabis should be reconsidered, including three with front bench jobs, two of whom preferred to remain anonymous. Twenty-one said it should not, 42 declined to comment and one was undecided.

Thirteen of the MPs also said that Ms Short, the recently appointed Labour spokeswoman on transport, was right to speak her mind on the issue when questioned on BBC 1's Breakfast with Frost last Sunday.

Her remarks drew an immediate slap-down from the Labour leader, Tony Blair, who instructed all Shadow Cabinet members to observe collective responsibility. Ms Short was obliged to issue a retraction.

Ms Short's intervention was all the more embarrassing because Labour's opposition to an inquiry into the drug laws was used to attack Chris Davies, the Liberal Democrat victor in the Littleborough and Saddleworth by-election.

Five of the MPs admitted they had used the drug.

George Foulkes, an overseas development spokesman (who has not done so), agreed that the party should consider the legalisation of cannabis. Another front-bencher agreed while a third called for a Royal Commission.

Other MPs prepared to publicly admit their support for further inquiry or debate were Bob Hughes (Aberdeen North), Helen Jackson (Sheffield Hillsborough), Max Madden (Bradford West), Brian Donohoe (Cunninghame South), Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North), Paddy Tipping (Sherwood), George Stevenson (Stoke-on-Trent South), Tony Banks (Newham North West), Jimmy Hood (Clydesdale), and Frank Cook (Stockton North).

Jim Cousins (Newcastle Central) said cannabis should not be legalised for general use but should be considered for use as a medicine.

Mr Madden said: "What she said is extremely welcome. It is very much the job of a radical political party to raise such issues." He added: "Labour MPs would feel utter despair if they thought the front bench was being prevented from saying things that might upset Tory MPs or the tabloid press."

Mr Corbyn, a left-winger, said the issue of legalisation needed to be separated from the furore over Ms Short. "She has a right to an opinion - but she was inept to let the interview wander," he said.

Of the five admitting they had tried cannabis, only Mr Tipping was prepared to go public, saying he had done so at university. He added there was a strong case for its use in pain relief, for example for MS sufferers.

Jim Cunningham (Coventry South East), said he went on a parliamentary visit to Amsterdam, where the drug is effectively legalised, and was not impressed. Mr Cook said some at Littleborough and Saddleworth "went overboard in quite a disgraceful manner".

t Research by Ben Summers, Lindsey Sheffield and Louise Jury.

The questions we asked

1. Do you think that the Labour party should consider the legalisation of cannabis?

2. Do you think Clare Short was right to speak out as she did on David Frost's programme, or do you think she should have stuck to her brief?

3. Have you ever used cannabis yourself?