Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 December 2014

Legal cannabis 'should be option'

Liberal Democrat Norman Baker said legalising cannabis "should be considered"
Liberal Democrat Norman Baker said legalising cannabis "should be considered"

The new minister responsible for drugs has told MPs legalising cannabis "should be considered".

Crime prevention minister Norman Baker, who was moved to the Home Office from the Department for Transport in October's coalition reshuffle, was quizzed by the Home Affairs Select Committee over his views on drugs.

The Liberal Democrat MP refused to be drawn on his position on khat - the intoxicating herb favoured by Somalian and Yemeni communities that was banned by the Home Secretary before his appointment.

But Committee member Paul Flynn told Mr Baker his "demeanour" and "body language" suggested he did not support the decision to ban the substance, which was taken despite official advice to the contrary.

Asked by Mr Flynn if he still believed in legalising cannabis, Mr Baker replied: "I t 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."

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.

Mr Baker has previously said cannabis is "no more harmful than alcohol or tobacco" and has 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 their supply and support individuals addicted to them.

"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."

Mr Flynn continued to press the minister on his views on khat, claiming Mr Baker did not agree with its criminalisation and it was just a move to "boost the Tory vote by appearing to be tough on drugs".

Mr Flynn added: "Anyone watching your demeanour, your body language, you don't believe a word of it, do you?"

Mr Baker said his time was "better spent on the future, rather than the past".

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