For nearly two weeks, the question was the talk of Britain: "Who was the prominent cabinet minister whose son was caught dealing cannabis to an investigative journalist?" British law forbids the publication of the names of minors accused of crimes, and so a court order had been issued which effectively banned the naming of the government official.
But in an age of electronic communications, governments are finding that of all prohibitions, the prohibition of information is hardest of all to enforce. In fact, by the time the court order was lifted, and it was revealed in the British press that the minister in question was none other that drug warrior Home Secretary Jack Straw, there was barely a soul in England who had not already heard the news.
Straw's 17 year-old son allegedly sold approximately $17 worth of cannabis to a reporter who was following up on a tip she had received concerning the young man's activities. The reporter subsequently went to local police to turn over the small bag of marijuana, and to tell them how she had gotten it. She was immediately arrested for possession. At this time, neither the youth nor the reporter are expected to face more than a stern warning from the magistrate.
But the implications of the incident have gone much deeper than the legal outcome of the case. Britain, awash in a debate over the legal status of cannabis ever since the Independent on Sunday newspaper began its highly publicized, and widely supported legalization campaign in September, is now in the throes of a raging national argument. Straw, whose office is ultimately responsible for drug control policy in Britain, had already been at the center of the storm with his repeated admonitions that legalization of cannabis was simply out of the question, and assurances that it would not happen. Recent events have not made his job as PM Tony Blair's drug war mouthpiece any easier.
Straw will get to share some of the burden now, however, as this week marked the official beginning of the term of the UK's first Drug Czar, Jack Hellawell. Hellawell, along with Straw, has been buffeted in recent months with calls for a Royal Commission to study the issue. True to the prohibitionist M.O. however, they have steadfastly refused to consider naming a commission, even as they claim that they "welcome debate". Many members of Parliament in England, including several from Blair's Labour Party, have called for a change in the law. And despite the wishes of the ruling party, and prohibitionists across England, that call seems to be getting louder.
A recent call-in poll by The People newspaper found 83% of respondents in favor decriminalization. And while polls of that type are notoriously unscientific, the result at least indicates that proponents of change are more actively concerned with the issue than their opponents. Combined with the stunning recent recommendations out of the French Ministry of Health conference on drug policy, as well as the report by the European Union Parliament's committee on drug policy and other related events on the Continent, the issue, and the call for reform, is not going to go away anytime soon. We'll keep you posted.