Let farmers ruined by foot-and-mouth grow cannabis, says labour MP

October 19, 2001 The Independent (London) by Nigel Morris
STRUGGLING FARMERS should be allowed to grow cannabis as a cash crop, an MP said yesterday when he launched a Bill to legalise the drug.

Jon Owen Jones, Labour MP for Cardiff Central, said it would provide a lifeline to farmers reeling from the impact of foot-and-mouth disease.

His Bill seeks to "legalise and regulate the sale, supply and use of cannabis for recreational and therapeutic purposes". Under his plan, a licensing system, regulated by the Home Secretary, would be set up to regulate the cultivation and sale of the drug. Users would be allowed to smoke soft drugs in "cannabis cafes". Mr Jones said the illegal cannabis trade in Britain was estimated to be worth pounds 1.5bn a year - "a very significant amount of money, which farmers would welcome". The Bill, due to be debated next week in the Commons, is being sponsored by nine Labour and two Liberal Democrat MPs, including Jenny Tonge, the party's international development spokeswoman.

Mr Jones, a former Welsh Office minister, has admitted enjoying cannabis in his youth. "All over the world it is becoming clear cannabis use is a fact of life and trying to deal with it through the criminal justice system is absurd," he said. "Legalisation is the most rational way forward."

Although his Bill has no chance of becoming law without government support, it is being introduced at a time when Britain's drug laws are under fresh scrutiny.

Mark Littlewood, the director of campaigns at the civil rights group Liberty, which helped to draft the Bill, said: "The public don't want our police force frittering their energies over a victimless 'crime' like cannabis use. Our drug laws are arcane and outdated ... they need urgent review."

The Home Affairs Select Committee is to look at current legislation on all categories of illegal drugs. Among the questions it will consider is what effect a relaxation of controls on cannabis use would have on levels of crime, drug-related deaths and demand for drugs.

Members will also examine whether decriminalisation of soft drugs such as cannabis is desirable and, if not, discuss "practical alternatives".

Tony Blair and most ministers fiercely oppose any relaxation of drug laws, but David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, has called for an "adult, intelligent debate" on the subject.

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