Widdecombe 'saddened' by colleagues' cannabis smoking admissions

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Indy Politics

Ann Widdecombe accused her Shadow Cabinet colleagues yesterday of scuppering her hardline policy on drugs by confessing that they had experimented with cannabis.

Ann Widdecombe accused her Shadow Cabinet colleagues yesterday of scuppering her hardline policy on drugs by confessing that they had experimented with cannabis.

The shadow Hozme Secretary said she was "saddened" that the revelations by eight Shadow Cabinet members that they had tried cannabis as students had distracted attention from the wide-ranging strategy on drugs she unveiled at this month's Tory conference.

Miss Widdecombe was making her first public comments since the admissions by her colleagues forced William Hague to shelve her plans for a £100 fixed penalty for anyone caught possessing cannabis. She told BBC Radio 4: "There is much more involved to drugs policy than just the whole issue of whether a student experiments with soft drugs.

"I am very sorry indeed that we got completely fixated on one small aspect of an enormously serious problem."

She added: "I felt that the debate had moved away from what was important, which was the policy that we actually have today and what we do to tackle the drugs menace today."

Some Tory sources have blamed allies of Michael Portillo, the shadow Chancellor, for undermining her strategy in order to damage her prospects of succeeding Mr Hague as Tory leader.

Miss Widdecombe stuck to her guns despite Mr Hague's decision to order a U-turn on her "zero tolerance" plan amid criticism from the police. She insisted it would lead to offenders getting a criminal record - a claim made but then hastily withdrawn by Tory officials during the party conference in Bournemouth.

"What is not generally understood is that if you have a caution it still goes on your record. It is not generally revealed, but it still goes on your record and that is exactly what would happen with a fixed penalty fine," she said.

Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, said the Government's mind on the law on cannabis was not closed, citing its decision to consider its use for medicinal purposes. "Of course you have to carry on thinking about these issues," he said.

Mr Straw said the law could not eliminate drug taking entirely but could regulate the problem. "There are many criminal offences that are committed by otherwise law-abiding citizens every day - for example, all sorts of road traffic offences," he said.

But a new opinion poll by ICM found that the majority of British voters believe cannabis is no worse than smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol. Two-thirds of people aged 25-34 subscribed to that belief.

* A third of Britain's bosses have tried cannabis, a survey in the accountants' magazine Accountancy Age today suggested. Of 250 financial directors asked whether they had tried cannabis a total of 33 per cent said they had, and 61 per cent said they had not.

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