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Notts MP: Make Cannabis Legal

This is Nottingham, 10th September 2006

Two of Notts' leading political figures have told a group of sixth formers they want cannabis legalised.

Nick Palmer, Labour MP for Broxtowe, and Anna Soubry, who will be his Conservative opponent at the next election, drew cheers for the suggestion at a Question Time-style debate.

They were not the only ones being candid: Notts Chief Constable Steve Green, whose force has seen several pubs temporarily shut for serving under-age "test purchasers", admitted that he drank under age himself.

MPs Paddy Tipping and Vernon Coaker were also on the panel for Shaping Our Future, organised by Notts County Council and the two universities. It was designed to challenge up to 200 teenagers to consider issues affecting their lives.

Dr Palmer, in response to a question on low election turnout, also acknowledged that his household watched Big Brother avidly; and Miss Soubry pledged to move to a more fuel efficient car while speaking on the environment.

Mr Coaker, MP for Gedling and a junior minister in the Home Office, was forced to admit that these days he had to mostly stick to the Government line.

The pupils of Colonel Frank Seeley School in Calverton, Carlton Le Willows, Gedling, and Carlton Digby School in Mapperley, spent the morning in workshops considering various issues. They elected spokesmen to ask the questions in the afternoon.

Drugs and alcohol featured prominently in the debate. Liam Beatty, 16, from Carlton Le Willows asked: "Why are some drugs illegal when alcohol kills so many more people?"

Dr Palmer said it was undesirable and impractical to ban alcohol and people need to be educated to drink responsibly.

In contrast, he said heroin or crack cocaine are so addictive that users are drawn into extensive crime to sustain their habit.

But in relation to cannabis, he said: "I am in favour of legalising small use."

His Tory shadow agreed.

She said: "You need a debate because if adults are to persuade you not to take class A drugs we have to be honest about things like cannabis and alcohol.

"[In an open debate] you will come to the conclusion that certain types of cannabis are less harmful than alcohol and tobacco."

Mr Green said he could not agree and was satisfied with the status quo. Mr Coaker, who earlier this year admitted to using cannabis as a student, avoided that particular issue.

But on drugs he said: "Young people say to me, 'Get hold of the dealers and do them'. That is what I want. We also have to educate people. They key to getting abusers out of offending behaviour is not putting them in prison, it is treating them."

Liam Beatty was impressed with the openness of the politicians. He said: "I was surprised they said some drugs should be available. I think with some drugs like cannabis people go into a dream but with alcohol people get angry."

Abbey Spendlove, 16, was not sure her question had been answered. She said: "More young people vote for Big Brother than they do for elections. How do you aim to get attention of the younger generations?"

Mr Tipping, MP for Sherwood, said research suggests it is the eccentricity and character of the housemates that grips the audience.

"The lesson for me is we have to try and behave as ourselves not be stuck in a party machine but speak out boldly and bravely," he said.

Dr Palmer said he was sceptical about the Big Brother voting figures and asked the students to consider that by voting in an election they could actually make a difference to their own and others' lives.

Abbey said: "They did not explain how they would get more attention."

The environment also featured.

Dario Lowater, 17, said: "Currently nuclear power stations produce 20% of the UK's power, how do you propose to replace nuclear power without increasing carbon emissions?"

Dr Palmer, Parliamentary private secretary to energy minister Malcolm Wicks, said there was a choice between importing ever more gas or generating power at home, which would mean using nuclear power for "one more generation".

But all of the panelists agreed everyone had to take responsibility and cut our own energy use.

Gill Reynolds of Notts County Council, who organised the day, said: "It has been fantastic. The young people have done their schools proud."

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