UK Ends "Zero Tolerance"

"Nothing could more vividly dramatise reaffirmation of our belief in freedom and personal responsibility than to move clearly in favour of liberalising the law on cannabis."
-– Peter Lilley, former deputy leader of Britain's Conservative Party, July 5, 2001

As police in the Brixton area of London begin a 6-month experiment in marijuana decriminalization in an effort to conserve limited resources, a nationwide call for the legalization of marijuana gathers momentum across the political spectrum and in the court of public opinion.

July 1 (UK) -- The Times reports: Britain's first drugs czar, Keith Hellawell, has softened his hard line on cannabis, saying that he no longer believes it necessarily leads on to harder drugs. In a significant U-turn, the anti-drugs co-ordinator, who was sidelined by David Blunkett, the home secretary, last month, said: "I do not believe it's a gateway drug."

The shift signals an end to Britain's apparent "zero tolerance" of soft drugs, coming only days after Blunkett endorsed a police experiment to let off people caught in possession of cannabis with only a warning.

July 2 (UK) -- The Times reports: Pro-Cannabis campaigners were given a double boost yesterday when Mo Mowlam, former head of the Government's anti-drug policy, called for it to be legalised and her senior adviser (Keith Hellawell) agreed that he could be wrong about links to heroin or cocaine.

[Mowlam], who said last year that she had tried cannabis at university, said: "From my time with the Government's drug policy I have come to the conclusion that we must decriminalise cannabis. It is a view I know that many in the police, social workers and others working with cannabis smokers fully agree with," she said.

She called for an inquiry into how to decriminalise the drug. Dr Mowlam said it would be "totally irrational to decriminalise cannabis without looking at the sale of it" adding: "It would be an absurdity to have criminals controlling the market in a substance people can use legally."

July 4 -- The United States of America celebrates the 225th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence- a document originally drafted on hemp paper declaring the formal separation of the American colonies from tyrannical British rule.

July 6, (UK) -- The New York Times reports: The former deputy leader of Britain's opposition Conservative Party called on Friday for cannabis to be legalized in Britain and sold in special outlets. Peter Lilley, a right-winger who served in the cabinets of former Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and John Major, said a rethink on cannabis would show "bold new thinking" by the Conservatives and help the party recover from the election mauling it suffered in June.

"The present laws have palpably failed. Nearly half of young people try cannabis and more than a million people flout the law every month," he said. His stance is at odds with that of most Tories, particularly the hardline view of shadow Home Secretary Ann Widdecombe, who told BBC radio on Friday: "The current position of the Conservative party is that we are opposed to legalization."

Widdecombe last year called for the party to adopt a "zero tolerance" policy on cannabis and fine anyone caught in possession of the drug. The idea was dropped after seven leading Conservatives admitted they had smoked cannabis themselves.

July 8, (UK) -- The Sunday Times reports: Two former home secretaries (Lord Jenkins and Lord Baker) said yesterday that possession of cannabis should be decriminalised amid signs from the Home Office that change may be contemplated during the course of this parliament.

A third former home secretary, Lord Waddington, said he would regard decriminalisation as a "minor step."

At present cannabis is a category B drug, as defined by the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act. Those caught in possession can be arrested and face a prison sentence of up to five years.

July 8, (UK) -- The Independent reports the results of a new nationwide poll: The survey, by NOP Research, shows that almost half the British people -- 49 percent -- are in favour of legalising cannabis or have no strong views against it. A narrow majority -- 51 percent -- still opposes legalisation.

Kevin Nelson can be reached at

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