Source: Evening News, Norwich

Pub date: Tuesday, 20 May 2003

Subj: Cannabis party given taxpayers' cash


Cited: Legalise Cannabis Alliance


HUNDREDS of pounds of taxpayers' money has been handed to Norwich-based pressure group the Legalise Cannabis Alliance.

The controversial party was given 500 by the Electoral Commission as part of new rules designed to help all officially registered political groups with their running costs.

The group, which has staged events promoting the use and decriminalisation of cannabis, is one of several beneficiaries of a special 700,000 fund controlled by political party regulators the Electoral Fund.

Other groups which have been given cash include the extreme right wing British National Party with 1,000 and the Official Monster Raving Loony Party with 350.

Norwich coroner William Armstrong today condemned the promotion of illegal cannabis use after being witness to several inquests of drug addicts who went on to heroin after starting to smoke cannabis at a young age.

He said: "There are vulnerable youngsters who are introduced to cannabis at an early age who have gone on to use hard drugs.

"There is also clear evidence that cannabis use can be particularly harmful to a person's mental health."

He opted not to comment on whether taxpayer's money should be used to support the Legalise Cannabis Alliance, but added: "My view on the issue of whether cannabis should be legalised is that the jury is still out."

Dr Ian Gibson, Norwich North MP, said the case for legalising cannabis was still not strong enough to win over the British public.

He said: "There is a case to be made and while they have done it, it does not look to me like they have convinced the British public.

"But I find it appalling that groups like the BNP have been given any money at all."

A spokesman for the Electoral Commission said the cash had been allocated to help improve computer systems, accounting records and for staff training.

He said: "This is a one-off scheme to provide start-up grants for parties to comply with the Political Parties and Referendums Act. The Act forbids the commission from helping parties in any other way."

The largest amounts from the fund have been given to Labour and the Conservatives which received 183,000 each. Lib Dems were given 137,000.

Alun Buffry, of the Legalise Cannabis Alliance in Norwich, said: "They have decreed to allow all the parties money to allow them to upgrade things like computer equipment. I would be more upset about the money going to parties like the BNP."

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