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News (Media Awareness Project) - UK: Let Doctors Prescribe Cannabis, Says MP Yeo
Title:UK: Let Doctors Prescribe Cannabis, Says MP Yeo
Published On:2001-02-21
Source:East Anglian Daily Times (UK)
Fetched On:2008-01-26 23:33:10

SOUTH Suffolk MP Tim Yeo has broken ranks with the Shadow Cabinet by
calling for cannabis to be made available for medicinal use, and for an
open debate on whether the drug should be decriminalised.

His views are in direct conflict with official Tory policy, which is firmly
against the legalisation of cannabis under any circumstances.

The Shadow Agriculture Minister, who has admitted taking the drug while at
university, said the experience of his son, Jonathan, who took cannabis to
ease the side-effects of chemotherapy treatment for cancer, had greatly
influenced him.

Mr Yeo said: "I think Jonathan's experience is perhaps the most significant
here. There are quite strong grounds for thinking that, for some medical
conditions, cannabis can provide relief from pain and suffering.

"I would like to see it possible for people suffering from MS to have
access to cannabis. That is not to say it should be legalised, it's to say
it could be used by doctors for medicinal purposes under prescription."

Jonathan, now a successful portrait artist, fell ill with Hodgkin's
Disease, a form of lymphatic cancer, while at university. He went on to
make a full recovery but took cannabis to relieve the extreme nausea caused
by chemotherapy.

Mr Yeo hit the headlines last October when he became the eighth Shadow
Cabinet minister to admit to having taken cannabis in his youth. He was the
only one, though, to say he actually enjoyed the drug.

The admissions followed Shadow Home Secretary Ann Widdecombe's shock
proposals, unveiled at the Tory party conference, to impose on-the-spot
?100 fines for cannabis use. The plans were denounced as unworkable by
police chiefs and drugs charities alike, and the Tories were forced to

But, in a move which will no doubt infuriate Miss Widdecombe, Mr Yeo has
now called for a full debate on whether the drug should be legalised or

He said: "What I do hope we can have is a proper debate about it. There was
a very important report - the Runciman Report - commissioned by the Police
Foundation almost a year ago, which was advocating some moves in the
direction of decriminalisation, and it hasn't had as much consideration as
I think it deserved."

Mr Yeo said he thought the arguments for and against decriminalisation were
"very finely balanced" and that he respected the views of those who say it
could lead to people taking more dangerous drugs.

"I wouldn't want to rush into any changes, but what politicians have failed
to do is bring these issues out into the open. It's been a taboo subject,
and I think, because every family in the country is affected by this, it
does need to be debated more widely."

His views contrast strongly with the zero-tolerance approach to soft drugs
espoused by Ann Widdecombe.

A Conservative Party spokesman said that while the party was "still in
consultation" about the on-the-spot fine proposals which caused such a
furore, the rest of Miss Widdecombe's proposals to crack down on soft drug
use were still intact.

She confirmed that the party was opposed to the legalisation of cannabis
for medicinal purposes, because other drugs could have a similar
pain-relieving effect.

Mr Yeo denied that the cannabis-taking confessions by members of the Shadow
Cabinet were part of a co-ordinated conspiracy to undermine Miss
Widdecombe' s proposals, but said she had failed to discuss them adequately
with colleagues.

"I think the lesson we draw from all this is that if you're going to say
something which is quite controversial, to make sure that it's widely
discussed with the Shadow Cabinet beforehand," he said.

Mr Yeo said he was not proud of admitting to having taken pot during his
student days but the announcement of the on-the-spot fine proposals made it
inevitable that colleagues would then be asked about it.

"If you're going to be asked those questions, then you have to give a
truthful answer to them. So that sequence of events had a sort of
inevitability about it."

Mr Yeo also said he believes the party should have "a more liberal attitude
on social issues - tolerance towards all kinds of minorities, whether they
have different lifestyles, different sexual preferences, whether they come
from different backgrounds or speak different languages".

Referring to Michael Portillo, he said he welcomed the fact that the Tories
now had a Shadow Cabinet member who "admits to a gay past. Twenty years
ago, you wouldn't have had that. This is progress".

He added: "I think the Conservative Party is moving towards being a much
more inclusive party. My view is that it needs to go on moving in this
liberalising direction."

Mr Yeo, who in 1994 was forced to resign as Environment Minister after
revelations that he and his former mistress had had a "love child", also
said that cannabis had been "readily available" during his days as a
student at Cambridge. "A lot of people tried it. Some enjoyed it, some
didn't. It wasn't really a very big deal."

He could understand why a poll taken immediately after the drug-taking
admissions by himself and colleagues, such as Francis Maude, had shown a
rise in the Tories' popularity.

"A lot of people feel politicians are not really human beings at all, but
that isn't the case. Politicians are very human, and have exactly the same
emotions, hopes and fears as anyone else. What we said - and particularly
what I said - made them realise we were leading exactly the same sorts of
lives as most people."
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