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Seven Cabinet Members Admit Smoking Cannabis In Youth

The Guardian (Manchester, England), July 20, 2007

by Patrick Wintour

Seven cabinet members, including Jacqui Smith the home secretary, admitted yesterday they had broken the law by smoking cannabis.

The admissions came before a government statement next week that will see ministers propose the drug's classification is raised from class C to the more serious status of class B. Possession of a class C drug is largely a non-arrestable offence.

It also emerged that two members of Ms Smith's Home Office frontbench team, Vernon Coaker and Tony McNulty, smoked cannabis in their youth.

The prime minister's spokesman insisted that Gordon Brown regarded it as a personal matter and said he did not send out questionnaires asking cabinet colleagues whether they had taken drugs. He did not ask Ms Smith about her past when he appointed her as home secretary although she will have been subject to positive vetting by the security services.

Ms Smith's indiscretion - she has been described as sensible but fun-loving at university - is unlikely to cost her politically as admissions of drug taking do not usually result in a serious backlash.

David Cameron, the Conservative leader, who has repeatedly refused to say whether he took drugs before he became a public figure, again refused to follow the cabinet's example and admit he had taken cannabis. There have been persistent rumours that he took more serious drugs in his youth.

The Conservatives refused to make any political capital out of the revelations, partly due to Mr Cameron's position and partly because many members of the shadow cabinet have admitted they used cannabis.

Ms Smith started a day of personal admissions before 8am yesterday when she talked on breakfast television about smoking cannabis while at Oxford University in the 1980s. "I did break the law ... I was wrong ... drugs are wrong," she said.

The question had been predicted within government, and Ms Smith thought it best to open as soon as it was asked in a round of TV interviews designed to trail the government's crime reduction strategy.

One of her predecessors, Charles Clarke, has admitted smoking cannabis and John Reid, his successor, is a recovered alcoholic.

Asked why today's students should listen when she urged them not to try the drug, she said that over the past 25 years the dangers of cannabis use had become clearer and its potency stronger.

She said: "I hope that my experiences in my life have actually helped me understand that I do want crime tackled". She said it did not make her unfit for office saying: "On the whole I think people think human beings should do jobs like this. I am not proud about it, I did the wrong thing".

Her past was not raised by MPs during her Commons statement yesterday.

Other cabinet ministers who admitted to smoking cannabis, mainly as students, were the chancellor, Alistair Darling, and the transport secretary, Ruth Kelly. Andy Burnham, chief secretary to the Treasury, also admitted he had smoked cannabis once or twice at university. John Hutton, the business enterprise and regulatory reform secretary said he had smoked cannabis many years ago.

Yvette Cooper, the housing minister, and the communities secretary, Hazel Blears, have admitted taking the drug in the past. Mr McNulty told BBC News 24: "At university I encountered it, I smoked it once or twice, and I don't think many people who were at university at the time didn't at least encounter it."

The Miliband brothers, David and Ed, said they had not taken drugs, possibly because they were too busy writing Fabian tracts.

Alan Johnson, the health secretary admitted he did sex and rock and roll, but not drugs. James Purnell, the culture secretary, refused to answer.

Other ministers yesterday insisting they have neither smoked or inhaled include Peter Hain, Ed Balls, Geoff Hoon, Douglas Alexander and Jack Straw.

As home secretary Mr Straw took one of his children to a police station when he admitted he had offered to help obtain cannabis for a third party.

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