"I seek to criminalise what is already criminalised which is criminal activity" - Anne Widdecombe, Newsnight, 2/5/2000
An old staple has been rehabilitated in the pursuit of new products, says Tony May.
Body Shop insisted it was not selling "dope-on-a-rope" after its launch of a range of skin products based on hemp oil ran into heavyweight criticism from former Home Office minister Ann Widdecombe yesterday.
The Conservative MP accused Body Shop founder Anita Roddick of "making a joke of drug-taking" as she handed out cannabis seeds at the product launch. She said Ms Roddick was being "wholly irresponsible" in introducing the Hemp range because they were produced from the Cannabis Sativa plant - a relative of marijuana.
The move was also criticised by the Parents Against Drugs group. Joan Keogh, its spokesman, said: "What they are doing is legal, but youngsters will put two and two together and come up with five."
But the fuss was a gift to Body Shop's PR department which was quick to extole the virtues of the "misunderstood cousin of marijuana".
Ms Roddick said hemp was one of the most environmentally friendly, easily grown and versatile natural products, but had been hit by a smear campaign to protect American cotton growers and by its association with the drugs culture.
The plant contains only a fraction of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, and is not a pot plant as it grows 15 foot high. You would need to smoke a joint the size of a telegraph pole to get high.
Although its growth in the UK was compulsory under George III - Nelson's navy used its fibres to make rope - industrial hemp from Cannabis Sativa seeds can now only be cultivated under Home Office licence owing to the cannabis ban.
Like any retailer, Body Shop needs to introduce new products to keep sales moving - the group's worldwide sales were down 1 per cent in the first half of this year once new store openings and expansion were stripped out of the calculation. It had a poor Christmas following aggressive competition in the US and economic turmoil in Asia and analysts have cut their profit forecasts for the current year.
Hemp is stuffed full of essential fatty acids and between 1000 BC and late last century it was used around the globe for paper (the American Declaration of Independence was written on it), textiles (Rembrandt and Van Gogh painted on it), medicines and paint.
Now it will appear in Body Shop in packs coloured oatmeal and brown with a cannabis leaf imprint.
Every week the hemp oil trucks will roll in from farms on the Continent to the group's factory in Littlehampton, Sussex, for processing alongside other exotic raw materials such as bananas into ranges of soaps, hand protectors and lip conditioners.
Ms Roddick said she would not encourage anyone to break the law, and had to use imitation plants at the launch to avoid being arrested with a real one.
In a reply to Miss Widdecombe, the Body Shop founder said: "With all the current problems our farmers face, I'd expect political leaders like you to support hemp growing.
"Do you honestly believe the sight of a hemp plant will drive Britain's youth to drugs? If so, no doubt you will urge the British Legion to drop their Poppy Day appeal in case everyone starts taking opium."
She urged the former Tory minister to smear her face with the new hemp cream which was ideal for "older skin like ours".
In 2000, Anne Widdicombe called for a minimum punishment of a fine of one hundred pounds for anyone caught in possession of even tiny amount of cannabis, to replace the caution, but without creating a criminal record. she was 'shot down' by colleagues on the Tory Shadow Cabinet who announced that they had tried cannabis.
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