Letter from the editor

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The Independent Online
TODAY, I shall be out on the streets of central London marching for a cause I believe in. While at the Independent on Sunday, I decided to launch a campaign for the decriminalisation of cannabis - not heroin, cocaine, or other hard drugs but pot, which has very few harmful side effects and even better, can alleviate the suffering of multiple sclerosis sufferers. At noon today, MS groups will join me, MPs, MEPs and supporters of our campaign as we wend our way from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square. It will be an intensely exciting occasion, one that marks a high-point in our six-month effort. But there is still much work to be done - while studies released by the World Health Organisation and British Medical Association point to the relatively benign affects of cannabis versus other drugs, most notably alcohol, and many public figures from the media, medicine, science, the arts, even the police have voiced their support, the Government refuses to budge.

That is why we are marching today, and, hopefully, at last, Tony Blair and Jack Straw will listen and understand this is one campaign that is not going to go away.

THIS week, The Independent invited the main party leaders to sign up to the Prime Minister's powerful statement attacking racism which he delivered in Southwark 10 days ago. Here at The Independent we applauded his sentiments. So too did William Hague and Paddy Ashdown, who echoed his views. As our political editor, Anthony Bevins, wrote in the paper on Wednesday, racism is endemic in our society. Barely had Tony written this than the Director- General of the Prison Service, Richard Tilt, said that Afro-Caribbean people were more prone to suffer "positional asphyxia" than white people. There were "physiological differences as well," he added. Mr Tilt did at least admit that there was racism in the Prison Service, but attitudes like his - which reminded me of the Bell Curve controversy in America - show how urgent the party leaders' commitment truly is. As a newspaper, The Independent has always stood firmly behind its belief in racial, cultural and sexual freedom for all. But we can never be complacent. As Mr Hague said, "more needs to be done to bring down the barriers of ignorance and mistrust which still exist in parts of our society."

SO, Canadian teenagers have gone wild for Prince William. Ten thousand hysterical girls turned out to see him as "Wills Mania" swept through Vancouver. In my teenage daughter's life, William's reign as the king of pin-ups lasted for only a part of the autumn term following Diana's death. It ended abruptly with the arrival of Leonardo DiCaprio, star of Romeo and Juliet, Titanic and now The Man In The Iron Mask. William, as far as my daughter is concerned, is history. She is, however, disgusted by her mother's poor judgement: three years ago, while I was editing Esquire, I went to a party at Giorgio Armani's. As I sat down to eat, a young man flopped into the seat beside me. His name was Leonardo DiCaprio. His blond hair was hanging over his eyebrows, his jeans and trainers decidedly scruffy. "Put me on the cover of your magazine. I'm going to be the most famous actor in the world within three years." At that point his fame was limited to his ( totally brilliant) performance in What's Eating Gilbert Grape. I didn't put him on the cover. My daughter cannot believe it.

LAST Monday, the Independent reporter Steve Goodwin set off to climb Everest. The office clapped as he departed for his flight from London to Kathmandu. As someone who read Jon Krakauer's extraordinary account of climbing Everest, Into Thin Air, when it first appeared as an extract in America's Outside magazine, I am moved and impressed by Steve's guts. Technology (solar panels, satellite phones, digital cameras) permitting, you'll be able to follow the ascent day by day in the pages of The Independent over the next 10 weeks. He has our very best wishes.

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