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Coalition split over legalising cannabis.

Byline: Graham Henry Senedd Correspondent graham.henry@walesonline.co.uk

ASPLIT on drugs policy within the coalition has emerged after Conservative frontbencher Chris Grayling slapped down a newlyinstalled Liberal Democrat minister for suggesting legalisation of cannabis "should be considered".

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said during a visit to Wales that he rejected comments made by crime prevention minister Norman Baker, who was only appointed to the Home Office last month after a reshuffle, which suggested a relaxation of laws around cannabis could be considered.

Mr Baker, who is responsible for drugs policy, made the remarks to the Home Affairs Select Committee this week, which was quizzing him on his views on drugs.

Asked by Newport West MP Paul Flynn if he still believed in legalising cannabis, Mr Baker replied: "It should be considered along with anything else. That's not my prime objective and I'm not advocating it at this particular moment.

"What I'm saying is there is a study on, an international comparative study, which is designed to look at all aspects of drug treatment, of drug policy, across various countries and we will follow the evidence and see where it takes us."

Mr Baker has previously said cannabis is "no more harmful than alcohol or tobacco" and urged resources to be channelled into tackling hard drugs.

He told the committee he supported the Home Office strategy to reduce demand for drugs, restrict supply and support addicts.

"The question is how do we get to those three objectives and maximise the return," he added.

"I'm determined to say as I always have been to follow the evidence. Sometimes that's easy, sometimes it takes you to difficult places."

Cannabis is a Class B drug, meaning prosecution for possession can lead to five years in prison, an unlimited fine or both, and conviction for supply or production of the drug can lead to up to 14 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both. It was upgraded from a Class C drug in 2009.

But during a visit to Cardiff, Tory MP Mr Grayling said: "I've always taken the view that the medical reasons for not going down that road are pretty compelling.

I've talked to many doctors over the years who have highlighted the links between cannabis use and mental health problems.

"I think the argument is against legalisation, so I don't agree with Norman on that.

"I won't be considering it. It is, in fact, the Home Office who leads on drugs policy - but I don't support legalisation of cannabis."

The row came as the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) recommended a former "legal high" should be banned permanently as a Class A substance - meaning dealers could face life in prison.

NBOMe was subjected to a temporary ban in June, making it illegal for at least 12 months, while further evidence on its impact was gathered.

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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Nov 29, 2013
Words:499
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