Newshawk: Martin Cooke ( [email protected])
Pubdate: Sun, 23 Jan 2000
Source: Observer, The (UK)
Copyright: Guardian Media Group plc. 2000
Contact: [email protected]
Author: Patrick Wintour, Political Editor
UK: Mowlam's drug clash with Blair
The Government's policy on drugs was in disarray last night after it emerged that Mo Mowlam, the Minister in charge of tackling the problem, was at odds with Tony Blair and Jack Straw over moves to relax cannabis laws.
Mowlam, who last week admitted she smoked marijuana in the Sixties, is 'sympathetic' to proposals that those caught for possession of cannabis no longer be jailed. She also believes it should be available for medical use.
But in a sign of tensions at the heart of government over the drugs problem, Mowlam is said to be getting 'absolutely nowhere' with Home Secretary Jack Straw and Downing Street, who see any legal change as 'the tip of a dangerous iceberg' leading to full decriminalisation of cannabis.
The dispute is part of a wider row across Whitehall about the effectiveness of the Government's anti-drugs policy, launched two years ago.
A Cabinet Office study has implicitly accepted that Keith Hellawell, the drugs tsar, has yet to have the impact he hoped in Whitehall. It calls for merging the anti-drugs work of the Department of Health and the Home Office.
The recommendation on lifting penal sanctions for possession is set to be made by a prestigious committee set up by the Home Office-funded Police Foundation and chaired by Lady Runciman, a former member of the Government's Advisory Council on Misuse of Drugs.
Appointed in October, Mowlam is the first senior Labour drugs spokesman to press privately for a change. The Cabinet Office report also admitted conflicting messages from central government on drugs. Some of the targets set out on the drugs tsar's national plan last year, including a commitment to cut reoffending by drug users, are simply immeasurable, the Cabinet Office found.
Mowlam, anxious to stop inter-departmental jostling and inertia, is determined to raise the profile of the Government's anti-drugs effort.
The campaign to allow cannabis use for medical purposes was given a big boost in November 1998 when the Science and Technology Committee in the Lords recommended that doctors be entitled to prescribe it. The peers said they found enough evidence that the drug was effective against the symptoms of MS, and in the control of pain.
The committee, chaired by Lord Perry of Walton, warned: 'Significant numbers of sufferers are taking cannabis at present, in defiance of the law and without medical supervision or quality control.'
But the Government rejected that report, despite support by the British Medical Association.
Latest Home Office figures, for 1997, show that 45,362 people were cautioned for possession of cannabis, 18,000 fined and about 4,000 put on probation. Just over 500 were jailed.
MAP posted-by: Doc-Hawk