How reason helped break the taboo

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The Independent Online
THE EVENTS in Hyde Park yesterday have already passed into history. Curators from the City of London Museum were on hand throughout the day to photograph the march and collect ephemera for the capital's official archive.

But how did the Independent on Sunday's campaign to decriminalise cannabis come to make history?

Three factors are responsible for propelling the campaign so far. Firstly the support of readers who recognised the flaws in the outdated and confused arguments deployed by those who want to carry on treating cannabis as a dangerous drug, such as heroin, which must be controlled by the strict application of the criminal law.

Secondly the way in which the debate was so enthusiastically taken up by other elements of the media.

Thirdly the persistence of Rosie Boycott, the editor, who identified a faint pulse in an issue that many had believed to have been long dead.

Prior to yesterday people had not taken to the streets of London in support of cannabis law reform for 30 years. Now they have sent an unmistakable message to the Government and broken the taboo that has obscured this issue for so long.

It is ironic that outside the efforts of the Independent on Sunday, the single most effective event in spreading awareness of the need for a new approach to cannabis should come courtesy of the household of the Home Secretary, Jack Straw.

Mr Straw, who has implacably refused to sanction open debate on the subject of decriminalising cannabis, found himself at the sharp end of the argument last Christmas, when his son, William, a 17-year-old sixth-former, was enticed into supplying a small amount of the drug to a tabloid reporter.

Here was the proof that cannabis use is now virtually ubiquitous, that otherwise respectable law-abiding people share the habit. To prosecute, convict and blight a young life for such a minor misdemeanor would be excessive.

Throughout the campaign our own and other opinion polls have recorded a slow but steady shift towards acceptance of the idea of decriminalising cannabis.

A poll last month of the 243 MPs elected to Parliament for the first time last May showed 65 per cent were in favour of a royal commission being set up to consider drugs and the law.

The Independent on Sunday would like to acknowledge the help and support of the following individuals and organisations in staging the Decriminalise Cannabis march: Anita Roddick, Richard Branson, Paul McCartney, Mike Goodman and Greg Poulter of Release, Alan Buffrey and Don Barnard of the Campaign to Legalise Cannabis International Association (CLCIA), Danny Kushlick of Transform, Professor John Morgan and Professor Lyn Zimmer of the Lindesmith Centre in New York, the EU Commissioner Emma Bonnino, Marco Pannella, Paul Flynn MP, Dr Brian Iddon MP, and Caroline Coon