IT has at least provided some light relief in what is surely – for many of us, at any rate – the grimmest party leadership race in living memory.

Following Rory Stewart’s admission that he smoked opium at a wedding in Iran 15 years ago (just to be polite, you know how it is) the fessing up came thick and fast from fellow Tory hopefuls, giving us, if nothing else, the chance to bring out old jokes about seeking high – geddit? – office and the Conservative party going to pot.

It turns out Andrea Leadsom, she of the “as a mother” mantra, smoked weed as a student, while Jeremy Hunt supped a cannabis-infused yoghurt drink while backpacking through India. We already knew Dominic Raab took cannabis at university, while Boris Johnson previously told a magazine he tried cannabis and cocaine as student at Oxford, describing the former as “jolly nice”.

Michael Gove 'deeply regrets' taking cocaine

By far the most eye-catching confession came from Michael Gove, the former justice secretary, who admitted taking cocaine on multiple occasions while working as a newspaper journalist in his late 20s. The fact that an arrogant, self-important little man in possession of a massive ego, working in an industry full of overly-inflated male egos, took a class A drug known to turn you into even more of a conceited monster, will come as a surprise to no one under the age of 55 who has lived a relatively full life. But, and this is the important bit, it might still shock the elderly, socially conservative party members in the Shires likely to have the final say on who becomes leader.

So, just when you thought things couldn’t get any more bonkers, in theory it is possible that the next prime minister could be chosen on the basis of their past drugs use, rather than how extreme and damaging their Brexit policy is. I honestly don’t know which outcome is more ridiculous.

Going through the motions, as is the way, Mr Gove says he wishes he hadn’t taken the drug, that he didn’t imagine at the time he’d go into politics, bizarrely suggesting just as David Cameron did before him that it’s OK to take drugs as a private citizen, as long as you don’t want to hold public office.

This sort of small-scale hypocricy irks alright, but what really gets my goat is the blatantly hypocritical way all the drug-taking Tory hopefuls went along with the nonsensical, phony and damaging government policy that still talks of fighting a “war” on drugs, as if winning were even a possibility.

Michael Gove 'deeply regrets' taking cocaine

Are we honestly supposed to think that any of these candidates believe in this government’s ridiculously draconian and unworkable drugs policy?

The reality is that many people of all ages, from every walk of life, take all sorts of drugs recreationally. Some of them do so for many years and it has little effect on their lives or prospects. Others do find their lives impacted, in a host of different ways, of course. It might mean a conviction for possession that could stop a perfectly decent person being able to pursue a certain career, or travel without restriction (even Mr Gove could now find himself barred from entering the US). Not that the letter of the law is always followed, obviously; most police forces openly say they have neither the will nor the time to pursue or charge all those taking illegal drugs.

For others, though, especially those from more deprived backgrounds taking hard drugs, a lifetime of misery, torment and addiction can follow, while drug dealers rake in unimaginable profits, filling our prisons with wretched souls who had little option but to turn to crime. Lives and entire communities are ruined in this way. Meanwhile, the impact of drugs such as skunk, a highly potent form of cannabis that can induce psychosis, on the long-term mental health of young people is of growing concern.

It is blindingly obvious that our drugs laws, based on a 1961 UN Convention, are not fit for purpose and have failed society on every level. The status quo does not stop people taking or dealing drugs; it arbitrarily criminalises some people and not others; it criminalises addicts who need help; it fills prisons with desperate people who offend again and again.

Why do our politicians continue to pay lip service to this harmful, expensive approach while knowing it is wrong? Instead of sticking their heads in the sand, they should have the courage and pragmatism to make public health and protection, not law and order, the focus of drugs policy.

Indeed, such a sensible change, which would inevitably lead to the decriminalisation and state control of substances, thus taking away the criminal element of both supply and demand, would eventually – as has been shown in other countries – be beneficial in both societal and budgetary terms.

And who better than the new prime minister, whoever he or she may be, to advocate, or at least explore, a new and different approach? I hope whoever wins the Tory race – and more than half of the hopefuls have now admitted to being drug-takers – will set up a cross-party commission to this effect. After all, it’s not just politicians who are hypocrites.