Is the hon. Lady confirming that, to clear up the confusion that has existed under the Misuse of Drugs Act, it is proposed that the possession of small amounts of cannabis should in future be legal? Will she further confirm that the Home Office has no plans to legislate along the lines of recent liberalising legislation in the United States on the use of cannabis?
The answer to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question is that under the proposed amendment the penalties for the possession or use of cannabis will be reduced in that the period of imprisonment will be reduced to three months and the fine will be increased to £500. At present, there is a maximum period of imprisonment on summary conviction of six months and/or a maximum fine of £400. As for the hon. Gentleman's second point, as he may know, the amendment was defeated in another place. The Government are now seriously considering arguments for removing the power to imprison for a first offence and are taking the advice of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.
Is my hon. Friend aware of the good advice that was given some years ago by the Wootton Committee? Will she ensure that its advice is followed even at this late date?
Will the hon. Lady bear in mind always when thinking of liberalising the law in this regard that the pod of cannabis is considered to be highly dangerous and that it is only the leaf that is not? Does she consider it highly undesirable that an article should have appeared recently suggesting that cannabis is no more harmful than a pint of Newcastle brown ale?
Is my hon. Friend aware that, notwithstanding that the various changes she has announced are likely to take place in the near future, the law relating to cannabis will continue to be in a mess and that the sooner it is repealed and cannabis is allowed to be sold in tobacconists' shops under the same licence as that permitting the sale of tobacco, the better it will be for everyone concerned? Such a course would save a lot of money and save the police a lot of work.