Parliament: Grassroots urge Blair to loosen drugs laws

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The Independent Online
TONY BLAIR is under pressure from Labour Party activists to soften his hardline stance against decriminalising the use of cannabis.

In a national consultation exercise, 18 constituency parties have urged the Government to legalise cannabis or at least set up a Royal Commission to review the drug laws. The groundswell of support for reform emerged in documents leaked to The Independent, which are being discussed by Labour's national policy forum in Durham this weekend.

"Forcing cannabis users to associate with criminal suppliers is a cause of crime and needs reform," said party members in Bradford, adding that no one had spoken against decriminalisation during a policy debate. Activists in Manchester said: "We need to have a full and open debate about the issues and not be tied to a fixed position for the next seven or eight years."

But the Labour leadership will seek to defeat the grassroots demands. A draft policy statement on crime warns that decriminalising soft drugs would make Britain a prime target for drug takers and traffickers and increase drug addiction. It says: "The public is very concerned about the drug problem and would rightly question any moves to change the law in this area. Any formal review of the drugs laws presupposes that some change ... is necessary, and would question our commitment to tackle the menace posed to society by illegal narcotics."

Yesterday, during a Commons debate on drugs, two Labour MPs joined the activists' calls to decriminalise cannabis. Brian Iddon, the MP for Bolton South East and chairman of the all-party drugs misuse group, said he might in future even consider the legalisation of all drugs. "I would certainly allow the use of cannabis tomorrow for medical purposes, but I don't believe that will work entirely."

Valuable resources were being "wasted" on catching cannabis users and locking them up, he said. "Five million people are now using cannabis for medical or recreational purposes - that is 8 per cent of the population. Is this the right law when so many people are prepared to break it?"

Dr Iddon said he was in favour of a "step-wise" approach. "If decriminalisation of cannabis worked, I think I would be in favour of going back to the 1971 situation where heroin addicts didn't have to go on the street and rob you first to pay for it." Dr Iddon said street heroin was dirty and could prove fatal.

He would prefer addicts to go to a clinic where pure heroin could be supplied. While they were there, they could be persuaded to come off the drug. "I might in the future consider the legalisation of all drugs because I don't believe that prohibition works," he added.

Paul Flynn, the MP for Newport West, said that the legalisation of cannabis for medicinal purposes could help people who have multiple sclerosis.

But Jack Cunningham, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, insisted that the Government had "no intention of decriminalising any illegal drugs".

t Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, will tell today's Labour Party forum in Durham that the Government will not be "pandering to Euroscepticism" despite the Conservatives' success in last month's European elections. "Our decision on the euro will be made in the interests of Britain, not in the interests of those who want us to pull out of Europe," he will say.

Mr Cook will defend the Government as "Labour through and through" and insist that its policies are helping people in the party's heartlands.