JACK Straw, the Home Secretary, stamped on the idea of decriminalising cannabis yesterday after a newspaper launched a campaign to allow personal use of it.
He said that those advocating legalisation of cannabis were "irresponsible" and that such a move would lead to a huge increase in its consumption. The effects of using cannabis were not fully known, and the drug could aggravate mental illness and lead to high rates of absenteeism, Mr. Straw said.
He spoke after the Independent on Sunday launched a campaign to legalise the drug both for medicinal and personal use. The newspaper warned that its drive - backed by Paul Flynn, the Labour MP, a leading policeman and a consultant psychiatrist - would continue until the law was changed. Support has also come from members of the business, arts, higher education and legal worlds.
The campaign begins as the Government prepares to announce its chosen candidate to be Britain's first "drugs tsar" to lead the fight against drug abuse - one of Labour's election pledges. An article headlined "The time is right to decriminalise cannabis" says some 100 celebrities, politicians, business leaders and doctors, including Sir Paul McCartney and Richard Branson, have signed a petition supporting the move.
Mr. Flynn, MP for Newport East, will ask the all-party Drugs Misuse Group when it meets next month to back new research to establish the virtues of cannabis use. Mr. Flynn wrote in the newspaper: "Is the answer to get tough, to crack down on pushers and users? It's been done and failed."
Det. Chief Insp. Ron Clarke, a recently retired member of the Greater Manchester Drugs Squad, said: "You could save an absolute fortune in police time and money at a stroke." Sir Paul McCartney said: "People are smoking pot anyway and to make them into criminals is wrong."
But the campaign was condemned by anti-drugs campaigners such as Paul Betts, father of Leah Betts, the teenager who died after taking ecstasy.
Explaining the newspaper's reasons for the move, Rosie Boycott, the editor, who admitted having started smoking cannabis in 1968 when she was 17 but said she did so "hardly at all nowadays", hit out at the "hypocrisy" of banning cannabis but keeping alcohol legal. She writes: "Alcohol is aggressive, cannabis is passive. No one to my knowledge has ever killed - or even hurt - another while stoned on cannabis."
But Mr. Straw said of the supporters of the campaign to legalise cannabis: "They are wrong." He told LWT's Dimbleby programme: "It would lead to a huge increase in consumption, make law enforcement much more difficult and would be a betrayal of the futures of many young people.
"What I regard as so irresponsible about those who say we should decriminalise possession of small amounts of cannabis is this: one thing which would follow, as night follows day, is that consumption would shoot up."
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