How plan to beat epidemic fell by the wayside

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The Independent Online

It is a testimony to the glowing optimism of Labour's first term in office that Tony Blair and his ministers believed they could win the war on drugs by simply appointing a "tsar" to co-ordinate policy.

The job went to a retired policeman, Keith Hellawell, who was given the task of producing a 10-year plan to combat drug use.

But it soon became clear that the policy was not working and in 2002 the then home secretary, David Blunkett, abandoned Mr Hellawell's targets. In their place, Mr Blunkett introduced more modest objectives of reducing the use of class A drugs under 25s, and increasing seizures of heroin and cocaine.

When Labour announced another change of tack and said it would liberalise its approach to cannabis by reclassifying the drug, the "drug tsar" resigned his post in protest.

Reclassification turned out to be a policy that meant the public did not know whether smoking cannabis was now illegal or not.

This year Charles Clarke further added to the confusion when he announced a partial U-turn by ordering a review of Mr Blunkett's earlier decision.