Drugs minister admits smoking cannabis

The minister in charge of the government’s drugs policy has admitted that he has smoked cannabis.

Vernon Coaker, a former government whip who was appointed Home Office under-secretary of state in the reshuffle earlier this month, said he tried the drug at university.

“When I was a student, I took one or two puffs of marijuana but that was it. I think it was once or twice,” he told the Coventry Evening Telegraph.

The MP for Gedling in Nottinghamshire insisted he had never taken hard drugs, and did not enjoy the cannabis experience, thinking afterwards: “I’m not doing that.”

Mr Coaker is not the first politician to come clean – in 2000, five members of the shadow cabinet, including Francis Maude and Oliver Letwin, admitted to smoking cannabis in their youth.

During the Conservative leadership election last year, David Cameron refused to divulge any details of his past, saying only that “we are all human and we err and stray”.

Mr Coaker made his comments during a trip to Coventry, as part of a nine-month tour of how the government’s drug strategy was affecting communities across the country.

Speaking at an event with drugs workers and community representatives, he said drugs policy was “undoubtedly one of the most controversial and complex areas we face”.

“Tackling drugs is one this government’s top priorities. We have invested unparalleled sums, given new powers to the police and courts and expanded the workforce. But we also know that we must do more,” Mr Coaker said.

“We need to drive down further drug-related crime, to see more drug misusers into treatment, to create more facilities and support for our young people so that they can resist drugs.

“I also want to see safe and strong local communities free from the drug dealers and profiteers of this misery.”

Asked about Mr Coaker’s admission, a spokeswoman for the Home Office said he had tried the drug “a very long time ago”, adding: “The minister has been open about his past experiences and is fully committed to taking forward the government’s drugs strategy.”