Ex-MI5 boss urges debate about decriminalising cannabis

A cannabis joint Lady Manningham-Buller wants cannabis sale to be regulated

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Ex-MI5 chief Baroness Manningham-Buller has called on the government to consider decriminalising cannabis.

The crossbench peer said that only by regulating the sale of cannabis could its psychotic effects be controlled.

In a speech to the all-party parliamentary drugs group, she said the "war on drugs" had been "fruitless" and yet talk of any change was "taboo".

"Given its effects on us all...I find it extraordinary it is not at the forefront of national debate."

She joins a growing list of high profile figures including Dame Judi Dench, Sting, Sir Richard Branson and former senior police officers who have urged the case for legalising some drugs.

Lady Manningham-Buller's speech forms part of a two-day parliamentary conference on drugs policy hearing contributions from narcotics experts from around the world.

'Knee-jerk opposition'

Regulating cannabis would mean that society focused on the health aspects of drug use rather than the criminalisation of drug users, she said.

Start Quote

Lady Manningham-Buller makes an important point when she asks why we don't trust the public on this subject. Do politicians too easily assume that voters will turn against them if they question the long-held orthodoxy on drugs? ”

End Quote Mark Easton BBC home affairs editor

This would also ensure that it did not include the components most dangerous to mental health.

In her speech, she said it was "extraordinary" that while drugs are harmful to society, destroy lives and increase crime, there was "knee jerk opposition" to any change.

"There is a presumption that the current policy is the best we can do," she said.

Policymakers needed to look at "politically uncomfortable" evidence about current approaches and consider alternatives, including whether the UK "should follow Portugal's fascinating example and focus on drug use as a health issue rather than a crime issue?"

Baroness Meacher, who is the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on drugs policy reform - at which Baroness Manningham-Buller is speaking - is calling on David Cameron to take action.

"We are urging the prime minister to bring forward an all party commission to examine our drug laws which are simply not working," she said.

"We are one of the highest users of drugs and yet we have some of the toughest laws."

'White flag'

But Chip Somers of the drug treatment group Focus 12 says decriminalising cannabis is the wrong way forward.

"I don't want the person driving the train I'm on to have just had a joint thank you very much," he said. "I am reassured by the fact that it is illegal."

Baroness Manningham-Buller Baroness Manningham-Buller is a crossbench peer and does not represent any political party

Christian Guy, policy director of the Centre for Social Justice, agreed that the "war on drugs" was failing, but said that was no reason to "surrender".

He added: "What I am concerned about is the idea that we should stop fighting it and wave the white flag to these criminal gangs and say that we walk away and give up.

"We need a clear message from law that says this is wrong and sends the right message to young people. But we also need to take other things more seriously.

"This is the wrong call at the wrong time. We need to look at how we prevent drugs use and deal with the demand, not necessarily the supply, and we also need to look at treatment which needs to become much more effective at getting people off drugs and rebuilding their lives, and I think this is a distraction."

Three years ago, the then Labour government reclassified cannabis to Class B from C - against the advice of its own drug advisers who said cannabis played only a "modest" role in the development of psychotic illnesses.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    6. krokodil "powerful narcotics like cannabis"

    It is at best misguided and at worst dangerously foolish to describe cannabis as a powerful narcotic, which would put in the same league as heroin in terms of harm caused and addictiveness.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.


    Legalisation in turn creates a level of quality control.

    Would you consider alcohol a 'soft' drug?

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    @Andy...It doesn't just cause a lot less deaths, it has NEVER caused a death in all documented medical history.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    Drugs are objects that cannot be illegal, they can't be 'legalised'. What is illegal are human activities pertaining to them. 'Controlled' does not equate to prohibition, it implies what we want, regulation proportionately imposed to achieve the amelioration of social harmfulness caused by misuse of drugs. Recognise that peaceful use of controlled drugs is possible and indeed commonplace.

  • Comment number 28.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    If we taxed & regulated the UK cannabis market it could generate income in the region of £6.7 billion or we could just leave it how it is and give the criminal gangs the billions of pounds to spend on guns, fancy houses & fast cars!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    The tax alone on Cannabis would probably bring as much money as Alcohol. Lots of people think its a minority who take drugs, the true facts are cannabis use is common place in the UK

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    this government would earn billions in tax if they legalised it as most people i know smoke it to relieve the presure of todays living you will never stamp out drug taking and it would take the powert out of the gangs that are running the buissnes but then the gangs would move on to other things but it makes sence all round

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Ironic that in the week when a proposal was put forward to further criminalise smoking, a proposal will also be put forward to decriminalise cannabis. What's the most common method of using cannabis - smoking it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Why exactly is it better to have the criminal underworld regulating these substances instead of the government?

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Cannabis causes fewer deaths than alcohol - every year - fact - and not just a few more either, thousands. Alcohol is the cause of thousands of car accidents every year. Alcohol is the cause of violence every year. Cannabis does not cause violence or car accidents. Alcohol is more dangerous to health and society as a whole yet it's a nice taxable drug isn't it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    There have been no reported deaths from Cannabis. I think people believe that it's bad because it's illegal but can't back it up with scientific evidence but alcahol is fine even though it leads directly to thousands of deaths a year. The only long-term effect in a very SMALL MINORITY of cases is psychosis. This occurs in people who possess a certain gene and would be denied Cannabis if legalised.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    I wonder who will raise the biggest objections to her speech; the Tories or the drug barons?

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    When are people going to realise that the majority (and by that I mean almost ALL) of the problems attributed to cannabis are caused because of it's prohibition!! The main one that people who are anti-cannabis come up with is that it's a "gate-way drug" to harder substances. The only reason for this is due to the fact that the people u must visit to buy cannabis sell other drugs. #havesomesense

  • Comment number 18.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Well lets just keep all drug illegal that way criminals can keep making billions of pounds, which no doubt at some point will & does fund terrorism - WAKE UP PEOPLE THE WAR ON DRUGS HAS FAILED!

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Not convinced this is a good idea. My taxes already pay for those abusing alcohol, tobacco, food (obese)& now add another drain on the NHS. Bad move. The drug cartels will undercut legalised cannabis which people will buy to save money. How is that going to help society? Why can't people take some personal responsibility & live their lives without drugs? I'm sick of paying for selfish addicts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Legalise and tax it, have the government release it's own brand of cheap and tasty snack foods...Economy sorted!

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    She is of course right but our dinosaur politicians are so out of touch they refuse to listen.

    Krokodil, that is utter nonsense about cannabis being different in the 60s. There have always been stronger strains of cannabis around, however, today's cannabis often has less CBD in it - an anti-psychotic, the reason being it is harvested too early by the criminals who grow it. Legalise now!

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    People on my estate are earning thousands growing the stuff it would make life so much easier as my son spends all his money on it and it started a lot of rows in my house.People who do not work and have nothing to do all day smoke the stuff all day.£10 a gram but it is addictive if my son cant get any he is like a bear with a sore head thc levels in skunk today are very high so be warned


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