Son's friends hijack Straw visit to demand reform of cannabis laws

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The Independent Online
JACK STRAW may be relieved that his son William's brush with cannabis is safely in the past - but the issue still has the ability to surprise and embarrass him.

Last week, in his role as chairman of the governors of Pimlico School, west London, where his son is studying for his A-levels, the Home Secretary prepared to address the sixth form on the subject of life as an MP.

But William's fellow pupils had different ideas on what is still the big issue. In a remarkable show of solidarity for Mr Straw's son, the sixth-formers hijacked the agenda and forced him to accept a petition supporting the decriminalisation of cannabis.

"We decided to make him aware of our views on cannabis", said the sixth former who handed the 10-page petition of more than 100 names to the nonplussed Home Secretary last Tuesday.

"He seemed rather taken aback so I asked a few questions about why he refuses to change the law. After a bit he came out with the same old nonsense about the need for a great deal more research and possible hidden dangers", said the 17-year-old, who prefers to remain un-named.

The crisply printed petition with the challenging headline "Stop turning young people into criminals" has now been forwarded to The Independent on Sunday for inclusion in our Decriminalise Cannabis Campaign list of supporters.

One name however is conspicuous by its absence. "We decided not to embarrass William by asking him to sign. He had enough to put up with already and we did not mention him when tackling the Home Secretary on cannabis and the law," said another sixth former.

"We believe," the petition reads, "that medical evidence suggests cannabis is less harmful than alcohol or tobacco, which are legally available.Yet thousands of young people every year are turned into criminals by the pointless and unworkable ban on cannabis. Without in any way encouraging the use of cannabis, or indeed any drug, we call on the Home Secretary and the Government to bring the law into line with reality and legalise cannabis without delay."

Prior to William Straw's encounter with the tabloid press and the sensational headlines that followed his arrest for passing on pounds 10 worth of cannabis in a pub at Christmas, he had been regarded as something of a swot.

The headmaster of the 1,300 pupil school, Philip Barnard, regarded William as one of his brightest students. He took maths A-level a year early and is just finishing his mocks for physics, politics and religious studies.

But now it seems William's image has changed and he is regarded as rather cool. At Oxford University, too, where he is due to arrive next summer, "he has already acquired something of a cult status" said St Anne's classics student Russell Lynch. "Everyone here is pleased that the offer of a place was not withdrawn."