12 Oct 2015
By Mikey Smith
Mike Penning got a rough ride at a Westminster debate prompted by a petition that drew 220,000 signatures
MPs rounded on a Tory Justice Minister today, accusing him of ignoring evidence that cannabis should be legalised.
Labour and Green MPs slammed Justice Minister Mike Penning, as he gave a withering dismissal to calls for the drug to be legalised – even for medicinal purposes.
And Lib Dem Health spokesman Norman Lamb spoke of the “hipocrisy” of ministers criminalising thousands of young people when, he claimed, “probably 50% of the government have tried cannabis.”
MPs from all parties attended a Westminster Hall debate on legalising the drug , prompted by a petition signed by 220,000 people – the third most popular on Parliament’s website.
Responding to the petition Mr Penning said: “I’m not going to stand here and say we’re going to legalise cannabis. I’m not going to say that from a moral position, from a personal position or from a government position.”
But he conceded that the government could “look carefully” at research on the subject to see “the effects certain parts of the legislation are taking today.”
Labour’s Paul Flynn, who led the debate and is a long standing advocate of decriminalisation, accused the minister of ignoring the recommendation of a Commons Select Committee, which called for a Royal Commission to be set up to discuss softening the law.
Mr Flynn wrote exclusively for the Mirror yesterday, arguing the war on the drug had failed, and cannabis should be legal to grow, sell and use .
And a fired up Green MP Caroline Lucas said it was “shocking” that despite paying lip service to the medical professionals who spoke in the debate, Penning appears to have “little interest in the evidence” that the drug could be a huge benefit to sufferers of multiple sclerosis.
Speaking in the debate, Lib Dem MP Norman Lamb slammed the “hypocrisy” of politicians who laugh off their cannabis use as youthful indiscretion while allowing thousands of their constituents to end up with a criminal record for doing the same.
The Lib Dem former minister said: “There’s is extraordinary hypocrisy on this issue.
“Senior politicians (are) frequently challenged about their use of cannabis and other drugs in their teenage and early adult years and admit to such drug use and laugh it off as a youthful indiscretion.
“And apparently (are) comfortable with thousands of their fellow countrymen and women ending up with a criminal record for doing precisely the same thing, usually people who are less fortunate than those politicians who reach the top of government.
“I think that’s something again that we should be uncomfortable with.
“It is probably the case that despite Mr Lilley and myself never having taken cannabis, probably at least 50% of the Government has taken cannabis and yet thousands of their fellow citizens end up with a criminal record for doing just that.”
Mr Lamb said the world was presiding over a “remarkable failure” in policy for allowing a £200 billion illegal drugs trade to fill the coffers of criminal gangs.
He said cannabis was wrongly being treated differently to tobacco which kills 100,000 Britons every year and alcohol which causes “untold carnage” in society, adding: “My own former party leader Charles Kennedy lost his life through alcohol, a legal drug in our country.”
Conservative former health minister and working GP Dan Poulter raised concerns over the potential mental and physical health effects of cannabis.
He described how cannabis plants, particularly the stronger varieties, tend to contain larger amounts of the “more psychoactive” components and compounds.
But he said there was a case for legalising medicinal use of cannabis for people who have diseases like multiple sclerosis, potentially through making it a schedule two drug rather than schedule one, making it consistent with the opiod methadone which is prescribed to heroin addicts.
Dr Poulter said: “This is not a simple issue as we have heard and I have looked at the evidence and on balance I am not currently persuaded that making access to a substance which is harmful particularly to both physical and mental health, making access legal rather than a decriminalised framework would be a good thing.
“I believe there are issues on medical research which need to be looked at and how we can look at the easier and more effective support of the potential medical benefits in pain control in terminal and progressive illnesses.”
Caroline Lucas said councils should be given the power to shape drug policies in their local area in keeping with the advice of the Global Commission on Drugs and in an effort to undermine criminal groups.
She said: “If the Government is serious about devolution it would also allow local authorities far greater scope to pursue drug policies which are shown to work locally even if local priorities are at odds with national policy or legislation.
“Such an approach would be in keeping with the advice from the Global Commission on Drugs which has recommended that national governments allow local initiatives to experiment with locally designed models that are, as they put it, ‘designed to undermine the power of organised crime and safeguard the health and security of their citizens’.”Republish