Softening the law on cannabis is unlikely to fuel demand for the drug, the Home Office suggested yesterday.
Sue Killen, the department's director of drug strategy, blamed a rise in cannabis use in the Netherlands on its tolerance of cannabis cafés, rather than its liberal legislation.
Ms Killen was giving evidence to Home Affairs Select Committee on the Government's proposals to reclassify cannabis from a class B to a class C substance.
She said the reforms were aimed at bringing greater "proportionality" to reflect the danger posed by drugs such as heroin and cocaine. She told MPs: "Looking at what has happened in other countries, there's no evidence to suggest reclassification will lead to growth in use ... Where there has been growth in cannabis use, it came with the commercialisation of cannabis by coffee shops in the Netherlands."
Under the proposals, announced by the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, last week, people caught with small amounts of cannabis would escape prosecution.
Ms Killen stressed that the Government was not proposing "decriminalisation in any way, shape or form".
Asked by David Winnick, Labour MP for Walsall North, whether people in possession of small amounts of cannabis would be likely to be prosecuted, she replied: "No. I think the Home Secretary has made this position clear ... they will now face cautions."
In exchanges, select committee members accused Home Office officials of being out of step with reality after they admitted never considering the possible effect of decriminalising drugs.
The committee chairman, Chris Mullin, said: "You appear to be in denial here. There's a huge debate raging in the outside world about whether decriminalisation is or is not a good thing."
David Cameron, the Tory MP for Witney, said: "It would be disappointing if radical options were not, at least, looked at."
Keith Hellawell, who spent three years as the Government's "drugs tsar", denied he had been sidelined with the offer of a new post as an adviser on international drugs issues.
Citing increased education in schools and prison treatment for users, he insisted the 10-year strategy to combat drug use, which was launched in 1998, was starting to pay dividends. But he warned the Government would not meet all its targets, and admitted: "If I was there to change the world single-handedly, then certainly my critics would say I failed to do that."Reuse content