I am not convinced that the week's most significant tabloid headline was The Mirror's pun on the Jo Moore affair. 'Today is a very good day to bury Alan Milburn' was its reaction to his decision to double the number of NHS-funded private ops just as the Audit Commission reported longer queues in A&E.

Ever-sensitive to his image, the health secretary was upset by what he calls this latest 'kick up the backside'. Not that Tony Blair will sack him. He's too busy with the terrorist war, and he'd probably compare him favourably with Stephen Byers, his fellow-Geordie moderniser, if forced to sack anyone.

No, the headline which smacked me between the eyes was in the Daily Mail. Announcing the home secretary's move to relax the laws on possession of cannabis, Middle England's house magazine posed it as a question: 'A brave step or a dangerous move?'

I should add straightaway that the paper carried a serious warning that this is a dumb move. Professor Susan Greenfield, a brain specialist at Oxford, said it takes 7,000mg of alcohol to achieve a 'mind-altering feeling of relaxation' but only 0.3mg of the weed. What's more, it stays in the blood for 50 hours, she pointed out.

All the same, for the Mail to be in doubt shows how far and how fast we have moved. There used to be a theory than Messrs Blair, Straw, Blunkett and Campbell wouldn't relax the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act because they all have teenage children. Blunkett was supposed to emerge as the most reactionary home secretary for decades.

What happened?

The obvious answer is the Runciman report, the Police Foundation report, changing attitudes at the BMA and among senior police officers, all possibly the result of the Bill Clinton generation reaching power, undamaged by a few drags. Even Minister Milburn was once associated with Days of Hope, a leftwing bookshop known as Haze of Dope.

Paul Flynn, the industrial chemist Labour MP for Newport West, put it differently when I rang for a celebratory chat. Juries have simply been refusing to convict in possession cases. 'The law says this, but the law is an ass - It is the best argument for juries.'

More to the point was the Brixton experiment in tolerance after the police arrested all known dealers, says Mr Flynn, only to find their successors in business within a fortnight. 'The only difference was the new dealers were armed.'

Mr Flynn calls legalisation 'the British method', which allowed heroin addicts to be supplied legally before the 1971 panic (there were 1,000 registered users then, 200,000 unregistered today) when punitive US methods were adopted.

Fine, and legalisation would certainly clean up the product, and thus save lives in those overcrowded A&E clinics where most Saturday night injuries and violence are drink-related.

Even Mr Flynn, whose wife's cancer (she beat it) first interested him in the medical uses of cannabis, would keep it away from kids, people with schizophrenia and other vulnerable members of society.

He assumes, incidentally, that allowing it for medical use is a foregone conclusion.

'If It is OK for recreational use, you could hardly prosecute for medical use, ' he says. I am sure he's right, though Professor Greenfield's point kicks in here.

If the weed is so therapeutic for MS and other sufferers, that underlines just how powerful it is, she says.

My kids, who are through that phase, are quite censorious about drugs being a big waste of time.

They agree with Mr Flynn on the risky delights of tobacco. The MP would prefer you to eat hash cakes or take hash suppositories than mix it with what he calls 'that filthy, dangerous, addictive drug'.

Still, he adds, now that the state is being more honest about drugs, perhaps the kids will start believing its tobacco warnings. l