Politics: Britain scuppers EU cannabis move

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The Independent Online
Proposals for a EU move to decriminalise the use of cannabis had to be shelved yesterday after British Labour MEPs were warned their support could embarrass the Government in the wake of the William Straw affair.

Labour members of the Strasbourg Parliament were instructed by the party's leadership that a recommendation due to be voted on yesterday and backed by Socialists from most of the 15 member states, would also cause difficulties for the British EU presidency. Tony Blair has declared war on the drug barons as one of the priorities of his six months stint at Europe's helm.

The author of the proposals, Hedy d'Ancona, a former Dutch health minister, was told by British colleagues in the majority Socialist group that "events over Christmas" as well as the timing of the presidency meant they would be forced to line up with Conservatives and Christian Democrats to vote against her report. Faced with defeat,Ms d'Ancona opted to withdraw the proposal in the hope it can be revived later. Her proposal, endorsed by Parliament's Civil Liberties Committee in November, called for drug laws in the EU to be brought into line with practice. Most governments turn a blind eye to small-time soft drug users while maintaining repressive legislation. While a recommendation from the European Parliament would have no legislative effect it would be seen by liberalisers as a huge political breakthrough.