by Richard Holliday Pressure is building for a relaxation in Britain's drug laws - particularly for cannabis. This, it is suggested, should be sold legally, subject - like alcohol and tobacco - to specific regulations. How would this work? Richard Holliday reports. In the sunlit street named Leidsegracht is the cafe-bar called The Bulldog. There is now a chain of Bulldogs in Amsterdam, but this is the original. In 1985 it achieved exceptional fame when it became the first establishment in the liberal Netherlands to be licensed to sell cannabis. The irony is that until it became a bar, The Bulldog was a police station. Sixteen years later there are now several Bulldogs plus numerous other cafe-bars that will sell cannabis, either in blocks of hash or packs of grass in fractions of a gramme, together with the coffee or beer you order. Now, it seems, we could be moving towards the establishment of our very own British Bulldogs, with Home Secretary David Blunkett inviting "an adult intelligent debate" on the question of decriminalising the use of the drug; downgrading its status from a class B to a class C drug or, at the least, considering its legal use on health grounds. In stark contrast to his predecessor Jack Straw, and Keith Hellawell, the Government's "drugs czar" he has just sidelined, Mr Blunkett seems in favour of taking a tougher line on crack cocaine and heroin, while allowing a softer line on a sociable spliff. Former Conservative social services secretary Peter Lilley and outgoing chief inspector of prisons Sir David Ramsbotham have gone further, backing legalisation of the drug. The Home Secretary is keeping an "open mind" on the new six-month experiment in Lambeth, where police will no longer arrest people caught in possession of small amounts of cannabis so they can free up resources to tackle the supply and use of hard drugs. This could signal the start of a very limited move towards some form of legal sale of cannabis. But - like alcohol and cigarettes - it would be strictly regulated. So how does the Dutch system work - and could it be successfully transferred here? Mr Lilley, who is backing Michael Portillo's Tory leadership bid, is proposing Government-approved licensed outlets to sell cannabis to people aged over 16. In Amsterdam, some 291 cafes and bars in the old city of canals - synonymous, however, with sex and drugs - are now licensed to sell cannabis. Of these, 120 are coffee shops and the remainder sell beer and the local spirit, Old Geneva, to give the joint-enhanced happiness a speedier kick. Aside from the Bulldogs, there is The Greenhouse, The Grasshopper, The Paradise and The Other Place, to name just a few. Enter one of these establishments today and select from one side of the menu for the liquid of your choice: a cappuccino or a bottle of Amstel beer, for example, at three guilders (about Â£1) each. On the other side of the card is another price list, from which you may select your preferred choice of cannabis. An exotic 2.5g mixture from Afghanistan - guaranteed to "blow your socks off" - will set you back 26 guilders (just over Â£7). A handmade joint, often with the bar's name stamped on the paper, costs an average Â£3. So, let's imagine the Government relents tomorrow and follows the Dutch lead. A similar experience in an average West End pub will cost Â£1.45 for the coffee, Â£2.57 for a beer (Beck's) and Â£4 to Â£5 for the spliff. However the practicalities of licensing the drug, and collecting tax revenue from its sale, are manifold, as they are with both drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes. Even the Dutch are confused. The sale of cannabis at the "smoking cafes" is not actually legal. Neither has possession of the drug been decriminalised. The word the Dutch use is "gedogen", which means "tolerated". The police will therefore turn a blind eye to both young and old who get stoned at any of the licensed establishments, located largely around the red light district in the heart of Amsterdam. To become a legitimate purveyor of hashish, a bar owner must apply for a licence from the city hall. This will cost him 910 guilders (about Â£260) - but it remains his property for life. Should the bar or cafe be resold the licence remains in his name. Cafe owners must satisfy police that they have no criminal record and are responsible members of society before any licence is granted. Amsterdam has ceased to grant any new licences. No one under 18 is allowed to buy the drug in hash cafes. It has been estimated by some sources that the legitimate sale of cannabis pulls in Â£1.3 billion a year for the Dutch exchequer - and that if the UK legalised it, the British taxpayer would be saved Â£1.6 billion. This, however, is difficult to calculate, especially given that tobacco and alcohol sales are taxed at source (i.e. included in the purchase price), while hash and grass sales over the counter - certainly in Holland - are not. This is in keeping with the "grey" nature of the trade - neither legal nor illegal under Dutch law. In another anomaly, while a drugs cafe owner may legally hold half a kilo of cannabis on the premises at any one time , his wholesaler or supplier's trade remains strictly illegal. Last year the independent Police Foundation think-tank - of which the Prince of Wales is president - praised the Dutch drug cafes and called for cannabis to effectively be made legal in the UK with punishments for possession and use greatly reduced. Following an inquiry chaired by Viscountess Runciman, former head of the Government drug advisory council, it advocated more freedom to smoke cannabis in pubs and cafes and to sell the drug to friends, while those found with cannabis on them should only get a caution and not a criminal record, it said. It also recommended that pub, club and cafe owners should no longer face prosecution for allowing cannabis to be smoked on their premises. The report said: "We are only suggesting changes to classification and penalties. There is a real danger in suggesting to young people that all drugs are equally harmful when they know from their own experience this isn't true." There is also an argument that legalising cannabis gets rid of the link of criminality which, it is said, can lead users onto harder drugs. Over the last year the Metropolitan Police has publicly softened its stance on cannabis, but vowed to step up the fight against crack-cocaine and other hard drugs. In a report seen by the Evening Standard recently, Met Commissioner Sir John Stevens concluded Scotland Yard was losing the battle to stem the supply of crack. He admitted that as soon as police locked up dealers others quickly stepped in to fill the void they left behind. Scotland Yard is now urging governments to concentrate on cutting supply by co-operating to stop international traffickers, and trying to cut demand through changing the attitudes of potential users. Despite insisting possession of cannabis is still illegal, the Met is in the grip of a manpower crisis so officers will frequently simply caution people caught with small amounts so as not to waste time filling in forms. In Lambeth drug users found with cannabis in their pockets are being let off with a formal warning rather than arrested in an official pilot scheme backed by the Commissioner, Lambeth Borough Commander Brian Paddick and other senior officers. The Met says it is too early to discuss the prospect of legalisation and how cannabis might be sold legally. One officer told the Standard: "Nowadays if officers catch someone with a small amount of dope they probably just throw it away rather than do two hours paperwork. In Lambeth Commander Paddick is probably formalising a confiscation policy that was already in existence." However the officer said an Amsterdam scenario in London was unlikely: "Decriminalisation can send out mixed messages and get rather confusing. It is going to be a long debate but I can never see London being like Amsterdam where people can openly smoke in coffee shops. "The farthest it is likely to go is if the confiscation policy is extended throughout London. Even then there will be opposition because there will always be the argument about whether soft drugs lead to more dangerous substances. We have to be wary that confiscation is not open to abuse by officers."