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Cameron rejects tough line on cannabis

Toby Helm and Brendan Carlin, The Daily Telegraph, 14th October 2005

David Cameron, the bookies' favourite for the Tory leadership, has backed away from the hard-line anti-drugs policy championed by the Conservative Party at the last general election.

Aides to Mr Cameron, who has refused to disclose whether he took drugs while at Oxford University, said yesterday that he was undecided about whether cannabis should be upgraded from a Class C to a more dangerous Class B drug.

David Cameron's detractors will seek to exploit the issue

Mr Cameron believes that the emphasis should be placed on educating young people about the dangers of drugs and on rehabilitation of addicts.

Appearing on BBC's Question Time last night, Mr Cameron again refused to be drawn on whether he took drugs, although he said politicians should be allowed to "err and stray" before they go into public life.

"I have not answered the question about drugs because I think that is all in the past and I don't think you have to answer it," he said.

His refusal to commit himself on the issue of reclassification of cannabis - he wants a full debate involving academics and the medical profession - is likely to intensify pressure on him from rival leadership camps.

At the last election, when Mr Cameron was the Tories' policy co-ordinator, the party manifesto said: "We will stop sending mixed messages on drugs by reversing Labour's reclassification of cannabis as a less serious drug, changing it from Class C back to Class B."

Mr Cameron's main rival for the leadership, David Davis, the shadow home secretary, confirmed last night that he was strongly in favour of reclassifying cannabis as a Class B drug.

In a further sign that Mr Cameron's detractors will seek to exploit the issue, Liam Fox - the most Right-wing of the leadership challengers - also made clear that he had opposed any liberalisation of the drug laws.

Dr Fox, a former GP who worked as a hospital doctor, said: "I have seen too many blue, lifeless, young people being brought into A & E wards to have any kind of truck with any liberalisation of the drug laws."

Kenneth Clarke, another contender, has said he does not believe that reclassifying cannabis to Class B or changing the law is the answer. Instead he has called for a co-ordinated cross-departmental approach to tackle the drugs scourge.

Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, is awaiting a report from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs before deciding whether to reverse a decision taken by his predecessor David Blunkett to downgrade cannabis from Class B to Class C.

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