Independent on Sunday, 5 October 1997

NEW figures collated by the House of Commons library for Labour MP Paul Flynn indicate that the number of seizures of cannabis in 1995 surged to 91,325, while only 6,468 seizures of heroin were made. Yet over an 11-year period from 1984, only five deaths were linked to cannabis, while 1,144 people died from the effects of heroin.

Mr Flynn rejected Home Secretary Jack Straw's "preposterous" claim that legalising cannabis would increase drug use and feed more money to drug dealers. "That is precisely what the present policy of prohibition has done every one of the past 20 years. And will do, unless changed, for the next 20.

"As these new figures prove, present policies create an inexorable rise in drugs use, addiction and death. The illegal, criminal, irresponsible drugs market can only be collapsed by replacing it with a legal market that will be licensed, rigorously policed and controlled."

At the Labour Party conference last week, Mr Straw reiterated the Government's firm opposition to any change in the law, or even to a debate on the possible decriminalisation of cannabis. The Home Secretary based his attack on the assumption that people who take cannabis go on to use hard drugs and to become addicted to them.

But, writing in today's Independent on Sunday, Steve Grant, executive editor of London listings magazine Time Out, disproves that theory. Mr Grant recounts how when at university in the 1960s he smoked cannabis with Ed Straw, brother of Jack. Ed did not go on to use hard drugs and leads a conventional family life in suburban Essex with a steady job.

Last week, the Independent on Sunday was inundated with messages of support, from doctors, teachers, lawyers, serving police officers, priests and members of the public. Also in today's newspaper a second Labour backbencher, Gordon Prentice, argues strongly for decriminalisation, in defiance of the party line.

Among the celebrities joining the campaign are Martin Amis, Lynne Franks, Alan Yentob, director of television at the BBC, Harold Pinter, novelist Alan Hollinghurst and Sir Kit McMahon, former chairman of Midland Bank.

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