Debate over marijuana law reform reached a fever pitch in the UK this week after British "drug czar" Keith Hellawell told The (UK) Observer that police should relax enforcement of marijuana possession laws.

In an exclusive interview with the Observer on Sunday (2/6), Hellawell said, "By far the greater proportion of arrests are for cannabis and I am looking for a change on that. I am looking for a shift towards those dealing in heroin and cocaine." His sentiments were reportedly echoed later by anti-drug cabinet minister Mo Mowlam, who has admitted to having tried marijuana in college and is generally thought to support marijuana law reform.

By Tuesday, both had backpedaled sufficiently to imply that their statements did not signal a change in the government policy. Hellawell claimed he had been misquoted, and Mowlam insisted that the government's policy remains to be "tough on drugs but also (to support) treatment and education."

Nevertheless, reaction from drug warriors and political foes of the Labour government was swift and sharp. Shadow Home Secretary Ann Widdecombe told reporters that "What we need is a clampdown on the possession of cannabis. Hellawell is completely wrong. We should be looking at a zero tolerance policy."

This week, the Tory party unveiled a new tough-on-drugs package that includes life sentences for people caught providing minors with Ecstasy and other "Class A" drugs for the second time, institutes prison sentences for persons caught with drugs within a quarter mile of a school, and allows schools to expel first-time drug offenders. Tory leader William Hague has vowed to make drug policy a central issue in the next election.

That plan could backfire for the conservatives, as public opinion in Britain seems to be moving in favor of reform. A recent poll by the Scotland on Sunday newspaper found that 43 percent of Scots favor legalizing marijuana. That figure is up from 34 percent just four years ago.

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Issue #124, 2/11/00 Vigils/Protests to Greet America's Two Millionth Prisoner on February 15 | Senate Subcommittee Chair Vows to End Anti-Drug TV Credits | Newsweek Runs Gore-Warnecke Excerpt, New Yorker Column Good on Policy but Unfair to Sources | Father Appeals Son's Suspension for Refusing Drug Test | British Columbia Supreme Court Orders Renee Boje Surrendered For Extradition -- Appeals Hearing With Justice Minister Set for March 10 | UK: Drug Czar Suggests Relaxing Marijuana Enforcement, Then Backpedals | There's A Riot Goin' On: Tales of Police Misconduct Pile Up in Unfolding Los Angeles Scandal | Enforcement Scandals Lead to Death and FALSE Convictions | National Call-In day on Colombia, February 15, 2000 | State Action: Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, South Carolina, Virginia | Editorial: Two Million is Too Many in Prison
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