The fog of hypocrisy clouds the debate on drugs

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The Independent Online

There will be few rational people who regard the Brixton police's experimentation with cannabis possession as anything other than sensible. Even the shadow Home Secretary, Ann Widdecombe, who famously destroyed her political career by proposing "zero tolerance" at last year's Conservative Party conference, could barely muster up any opposition to it when pressed to do so.

Clearly, there are two things out of kilter here. One is the law; the other is the reaction of our politicians to drugs. Cannabis use is widespread among the younger generations, and not uncommon among the middle-aged; it will not be long before a majority of the country are, technically, criminals. The Brixton experiment – seeing what happens when possession of small quantities of cannabis is, in effect, ignored by the police – may help rationalise this most irrational of debates by giving us some genuine evidence, rather than the ludicrous assertions that routinely surround this issue.

But why is leadership on this issue coming from the beleaguered police rather than from their political masters? We have in David Blunkett a Home Secretary whose attitude to cannabis possession is, at the very least, as severe as his predecessor, Jack Straw (who, it should be recalled, turned his son over to the police). Meanwhile, the Conservative Party is quietly flirting with a truly radical policy: legalisation. Much depends, of course, on who wins the leadership contest but there are indications that the Tories are prepared to make this bold gesture to underline how they have changed.

Such a move would be welcome, since the worst aspect of this debate is the hypocrisy. Ann Widdecombe's credibility was destroyed by her Shadow Cabinet colleagues admitting to taking dope – Conservative MPs who have nonetheless supported the status quo for their entire parliamentary careers. In private, many MPs talk openly about the need for law reform; in public, most dismiss any such thing. What is that if it is not hypocrisy?

It is not just Conservatives, of course. On Sunday, Mo Mowlam made clear her support for law reform. Would that she had had the honesty to do that when she was the cabinet minister responsible for the daft "war on drugs". Likewise, Keith Hellawell admits that cannabis might not be a gateway drug the second he is overthrown as the drugs tsar.

The truth is that our policies towards cannabis are inconsistent, weak and wrong. Britain will never have the calm, considered debate that is needed until we grow up and recognise that it is not being "soft" to reconsider our approach. As a start, Mr Blunkett should show that he favours rational discussion above role-playing, and set up a Royal Commission on drugs.

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