The great and the good take a second pot shot: Twenty-five years after an advert in the Times called for cannabis to be legalised, people are signing a new petition. Edward Welsh reports

THE BARRISTER Michael Mansfield and Professor Hans Eysenck have signed. So have Wendy Savage, Tom Robinson, Julie Christie and more than 100 other lawyers, doctors, journalists and household names. Marjorie Proops at first said yes then changed her mind. Jonathan Aitken and Brian Walden declined.

The great and the good were responding to a request from Release, the drugs and legal advice agency, to sign a petition calling for the legalisation of cannabis. It will appear as a full-page advertisement in the Times on Friday.

The petition, which claims that the ban on cannabis has 'promoted criminality, conflict and more harm to the individual and society than its use' will mark the 25th anniversary of the publication of another petition in the Times declaring that 'the law against marijuana is immoral in principle and unworkable in practice'.

Release is still waiting to hear whether Paul McCartney, who put up the pounds 1,800 to pay for the original advert, will sign again.

All those who put their names to the 1967 petition and are still alive have been asked to sign. But some no longer wish to be associated with the cause.

Release believes that, despite a greater acceptance of cannabis smoking, people are still worried about coming out in favour of lifting the ban. Mike Goodman, the charity's director, said that some might be concerned that their careers would be blighted.

However, the careers of David Dimbleby and Kenneth Tynan did not seem to be damaged by signing the original. Nor does being caught smoking pot seem to put other public figures on the dole for good.

Neither McCartney nor Mick Jagger have lost public esteem. But cannabis and the world of showbusiness have a long history. In 1948, the film star Robert Mitchum was given a year's suspended sentence after being caught with a 'reefer' in Laurel Canyon. At the time he said: 'Sure I've been using the stuff since I was a kid. I guess it's all over now. I'm ruined.' He went on to make about 60 films.

John Wayne was a fellow user - but only once. 'It didn't do anything for me.'

The careers of the cricketer Ian Botham and the snooker player John Virgo did not suffer much after it was revealed they had smoked cannabis. Botham was suspended from first-class cricket for eight weeks in 1986. Virgo is no longer chairman of snooker's ruling body but continues to play.

Judge Clarence Thomas faced gruelling questioning from the US Senate before he could take up his appointment to the Supreme Court last year. But his opponents were more concerned about allegations, later to prove unfounded, of sexual harassment than his admitted use of cannabis at law school.

Judge Douglas Ginsburg was not so lucky. Ronald Reagan's nominee for the Supreme Court in 1987 was forced to withdraw when it was revealed he had enjoyed pot as a Harvard law professor. His near-namesake, the beat poet Allen Ginsberg, suffered no such indignity after publicly praising its benefits. Even American presidents do not appear to have to worry too much. George Washington grew the marijuana plant - hemp - on his estate. But that was for manufacturing rope.

Bill Clinton, the Democratic presidential candidate, has admitted that he used cannabis while at Oxford in the 1960s, but he declared: 'I didn't like it, and I didn't inhale and I never tried it again.' His running mate, Al Gore, went one better - he did inhale. It remains to be seen whether the smoke will cloud their election prospects.

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