Culture: The MP who didn't inhale

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The Independent Online
Just because she went into a coffee shop it doesn't mean she inhaled. That was the message yesterday from Ann Taylor's office, after it emerged that the Leader of the Commons had popped in to one of Amsterdam's infamous establishments where Moroccan black is as readily available as cafe latte.

"People seem to be taking two and two and making five," said a spokeswoman for Ms Taylor, after details of the visit emerged. "This should not be seen as an indication that the Government is going to legalise cannabis."

Indeed it shouldn't. The visit to Amsterdam, earlier this week, was part of a three-day fact-finding mission to Holland and France, intended to familiarise Ms Taylor with the drugs policies of other countries. As chair of the Cabinet sub-committee on drug misuse, she has travelled far and wide to gather information.

No details were forthcoming as to which coffee shop proprietor played host and officials refused to say what was discussed or - perhaps - handled. "It was a private visit. The minister simply wanted to familiarise herself with the issues," said the spokeswoman.

It was a surreal end to a week in which Lord Bingham, the Lord Chief Justice had expressed support for "detached, objective, independent consideration of decriminalisation" of soft drugs. And it followed on the heels of expressions of determination by Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, that he would never bow to pressure to let up on the fight against drugs.

However, Frank Dobson, the Secretary of State for Health told a television studio audience on Thursday night that he would consider making cannabis legal for sufferers of multiple sclerosis, making it available on prescription on medical grounds.

Next week ministers are expected to announce the name of the person chosen to be the new "drugs tsar" who will co-ordinate efforts across Whitehall to combat drug abuse.