Should cannabis be legalised?
Evening News, Norwich, UK, March 18 1998

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The debate surrounding cannabis rages on. In may it was a key election issue and convicted drug smuggler Howard Marks stood as a legalise cannabis candidate in Norwich. Now more research into the drug has been published and a national newspaper is spearheading a campaign to see cannabis legalised. But as parents increasingly fear for the safety of their children in a society where recreational drugs are becoming more popular, which way should the law swing? Abigail Saltmarsh sets the case for and against the legalisation of cannabis.

Leah Betts died after taking an ecstasy tablet. Now her dad, Paul Betts is waging war against all recreational drugs, including cannabis.

He believes many children begin smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, then move on to cannabis before possibly hitting harder drugs.

"When people think of cannabis they think of the 60's, but it is much, much stronger now" he said.

"It is a highly dangerous drug" He said cannabis could not be described as simply "a plant" any more than heroin, which comes from the poppy or cocaine, from a coca plant.

Mr Betts claimed cannabis was a serious health risk.

He said research showed it was carcinogenic - and was related to oral and lung cancer, sterility, memory loss, brain shrinkage and premature birth.

And he added "we are getting calls all the time from youngsters who cannot sleep or get up without having a joint and many of them are dropping out of school"

Norfolk police are also firmly opposed to the legalisation of the drug.

Detective Chief Inspector Chris Grant said "Cannabis is part of the whole sub-culture of drugs"

"It is an entry level drug which can lead to people experimenting with potentially more dangerous drugs"

There is an obvious health connotation as well - the message from us is Drugs destroy lives"

Mr Betts said youngsters failed to understand why their parents are so concerned"

"It is not until young people start to get older that they realise people are not out to spoil their fun but are giving them advice" he said. "By the time the young people find out it could be too late"

The pro-cannabis lobby is keen to highlight the plants other uses

+ Hemp is the same plant as cannabis

+ It used to be a valuable crop in Britain - One place it was farmed was Hempnall.

PRESSURE groups campaigning for the legalisation of cannabis say:


The Evening News has asked the two local MPs where they stand on the debate.

Ian Gibson, MP for Norwich North, is involved with the Lords committee looking into the medicinal uses of cannabis.

He said "I believe the current government policy in relation to drugs is the correct one". But he said he thought we were going to learn a lot more about the science of cannabis. ]

"At the moment there is no clear cut view about the potential damage to peoples health."

"If, for example, that came out and there was no danger, that would make it more likely that there ought to be a more general investigation"

He continued: "I do find evidence that it might lead to hard drugs still ambivalent".

And he did not always agree with home secretary Jack Straw's strong anti-cannabis stance.

He added "I doubt if we are ever going to get a clear cut resolution of all these issues and certainly it doesn't appear that the use of cannabis is going to go away".

Asked whether he had ever used cannabis himself, he replied: "I'm not commenting on that. It's not relevant to the larger debate" But he added "I was a child of the '60s".

Charles Clarke MP for Norwich South, said he was against the legalisation of cannabis: "I remain convinced that it would be quite wrong for parliament to send the signal that increasing use of drugs is acceptable in our


Today's street names for cannabis include

dope, draw, gear, stash, ganja, hash (solid cannabis), grass, weed, bush (dried cannabis plant)


Jack Girling wants to see cannabis sold in youth clubs, tea houses and coffee shops.

Jack, who is chairman of the Norwich branch of the Campaign to legalise cannabis Internationally, believe cannabis is not a drug.

And he believe it should be freely available to anyone - of any age.

"Cannabis should never have been criminalised - its just a plant" he said. "It should be treated just as we treat cabbage. All its properties are benificial".

Jack, who's group has 350 members in Norwich, refutes the argument that smoking cannabis leads to harder drugs.

He said it was the individual personality which dictated whether they went on to try other substances.

But if youngsters did not have to buy cannabis illegally they would not be exposed to dealers selling hard drugs.

Derek Williams, a Norwich member of campaigning Internet group Cannabis Internet Activists (CIA), also claims cannabis does not lead on to other drugs.

"Holland, where you can buy cannabis in the famous "coffee shops" has the lowest hard drug abuse in the world" he said.

But he does not agree that cannabis should be sold freely without government control.

He would like to see it taxed, sold legally over the counter - and only to those over the age of 18.

Derek believes the product should be quality controlled and labelled or graded as to strength.

"Very, very few people react badly to cannabis but if it had a strength control people would know what they were taking" said Derek.

"They wouldn't then be worried"

Legalising cannabis would free up police manpower and resources.

"I think one day cannabis will have to be legalised" said Derek.

The Campaign to legalise cannabis is holding a public meeting in Chapelfield Gardens on April 1st from 10am to 2pm.

A march is being held in London on March 28th in a bid to put pressure on the government to legalise cannabis.


The BMA is not in favour of legalising cannabis as a recreational drug. But it would like to see how effective it is for medicinal purposes

A spokesman for the association said "because of the law surrounding cannabis it is very, very difficult to carry out research on cannabis"

"If it were possible to do the tests and it proved, as we strongly suspect it would, that it could be effective as a medicine, we would like to see it legalised on prescription only.

But she added "It would be the cannabinoids in the drug that would be extracted and used for treatment"

"It wouldn't mean we would be walking down hospital wards handing out joints"


Groups firmly against the legalisation of cannabis say:

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CLCIA, 54C Peacock Street, Norwich, Norfolk, NR3 1TB, UK; E-mail CLCIA