FORMER drug smuggler Howard Marks and Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens locked horns last night to debate the legalisation of cannabis.
An audience of about 70 people were at Waterstones in Oxford to listen to each argument before firing questions at the pair.
Mr Marks, once called “the most sophisticated drug smuggler of all”, said: “Over two thirds of voters aged in their early 20s use cannabis. The war against drugs has failed to reduce supply and it has failed to reduce demand.”
He said this had fuelled the black market, allowing gangs to make vast sums of money and meant it was often mixed with potentially dangerous substances.
Mr Marks added: “The prohibition of cannabis is an extremely dangerous failure and should be dismantled as soon as possible.”
Arguing that drug laws should be stronger, Mr Hitchens, author of The War We Never Fought, said: “The most successful agricultural product in the UK today is cannabis, even though it is illegal. Mental health is not a clearly measurable thing.
“What we can say is that there is a powerful correlation between cannabis and mental illness.”
He added: “If we legalise a drug, it is fantastically difficult to close the door again.”
Voting at the end of the debate showed the audience was split in their view of the issue.