Blair rejects new calls for a review of cannabis law

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The government stuck to its hardline stance on cannabis yesterday despite calls from a former police chief and one of its own MPs for the drug to be legalised.

The government stuck to its hardline stance on cannabis yesterday despite calls from a former police chief and one of its own MPs for the drug to be legalised.

As ministers enjoyed the spectacle of the Tory disarray over the issue, the Labour MP Paul Flynn called on the Cabinet to follow the example of the Shadow Cabinet and "end the hypocrisy" over drugs.

But Downing Street ruled out a review of Britain's drug laws and made clear that it was up to the police to enforce them "as they see fit". The Prime Minister's spokesman said Tony Blair supported fully the position of Keith Hellawell, the Government's "drugs tsar", that cannabis was harmful and should remain criminalised."The Government has set out a very clear long-term strategy to deal with drugs. It recognises that drugs are a scourge of modern times, that they destroy lives," the spokesman said.

"We have no intention of legalising or decriminalising any drugs that are currently illegal. Our focus is on hard drugs which do most damage. But equally the Government recognises that there are other drugs which cause damage. Cannabis is a drug which does cause harm. Those that are saying that decriminalisation is a panacea that will solve the problem, that's not a view which the Government holds to.

"The Government's job is to take a cool, hard look at the problem and to put in place sensible policy that will stand the test of time. The laws are there and it is for the police to enforce them as they see fit."

Earlier, Mr Hellawell said that Ann Widdecombe's "zero tolerance" proposals were impractical, but he dismissed the argument for legalisation, insisting that cannabis could be very damaging. Mr Hellawell said that although some six million people claimed to have tried cannabis, only a small number used it regularly.

Mr Flynn, Labour MP for Newport West, said Labour should follow the lead of those Tories who had owned up to using cannabis. "Politicians, including the Labour leadership, ought to start telling the truth on this issue. The Cabinet should follow the example of the Shadow Cabinet. It's time to end the hypocrisy on drugs," he said. However, ministers have been told not to respond to queries about drug use.

Francis Wilkinson, the former chief constable of Gwent, published a pamphlet arguing that the harm done to society by cannabis was entirely caused by its prohibition.

Mr Wilkinson, who is patron of Transform, a body lobbying for drug law reform, published "The Leaf and The Law", a paper calling for the drug to be made available in off-licences to people aged 18 and over. He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme."Alcohol is much more serious, much more socially damaging, much more powerful than cannabis is. Nicotine is much more addictive, cannabis isn't addictive, it's very safe."

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