Perils of a liberal parent in the great dope debate

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ANY MINUTE now, someone is going to telephone and ask me to comment on today's House of Lords report on smoking dope. I hope it's that nice girl from Sky Television.

Last time I appeared on Sky News, they paid me a hundred quid. Not bad for an interview consisting of two questions lasting approximately 97 seconds.

Q: Cannabis is an illegal substance. Knowing that you're breaking the law, why do you smoke it?

A: Because it improves my eyesight.

Q: Are you in favour of decriminalising cannabis for medical purposes?

A: Sure.

Of course, there's a bit more to it than that and, depending on how much time they give me, I rabbit on about this tiresome hereditary complaint I have known as retinitis pigmentosa, which makes everything I see, especially faces and print, as blurred as if I were attempting to focus through a jam-jar darkly.

Late-night chat shows are more generous. Radio 5 offered pounds 150 but that was for the midnight to 2am slot including listeners' phone-ins. Late- night listeners are a peculiar breed, let's face it. If they were normal they'd be asleep. Nutters calling from lonely Welsh phone boxes I can cope with, it's the know-alls up to their armpits in statistics that throw me.

"I take it Ms Arnold is familiar with the second draft amendment to the recent government White Paper on recreational drugs which states categorically ..."

No, Alistair from Tring, I am familiar neither with the amendment nor the White Paper and even if I were I doubt it would help me make up my mind about the second and far more controversial part of The Great Cannabis Debate upon which their Lordships will inevitably be asked to debate sooner, rather than later, namely should we go the whole hog and decriminalise cannabis altogether?

Now this is serious stuff. Legalising pot for medical reasons hardly needed debating. It so obviously needed to be done, and to give Sky News credit, 97 seconds is about as long as it takes to say so. Do I think cannabis should be legalised? If you'd asked me before this year's A-level results came out I'd have said yes.

Well, of course, why not? I'm liberal, I'm broad-minded, I'm tolerant, I'm modern. With the rest of you, I listened to Rosie Boycott's pro-pot arguments and added my name to the list of signatories.

We were in Scotland when the 17-year-old called with his A-level results and I go ballistic. I call his teacher, what happened? "With the best will in the world you can't teach kids about the finer points of Shakespearean imagery when they're stoned," said Miss Bentley.

By all means let us legalise cannabis for recreational purposes but let us add a proviso as we do with alcohol and make it available only to adults.

Call it a cop-out, but it is far easier for the beleaguered modern parents undermined by peer group pressure to be able to fall back on the law when striving to maintain parental discipline. I did it the modern, broad- minded liberal way. "Honestly darling, you'd really be able to concentrate harder if you didn't smoke that stuff."

"But you did, Mum!"