Michael Gove’s admission that he took cocaine “on several occasions” should not prevent him from running to be the next prime minister, a leadership rival said.
The Environment Secretary said he “deeply regrets” using the drug 20 years ago and acknowledged it was “a mistake”.
Dominic Raab, another Tory leadership contender, said: “I certainly don’t see it barring him from this race in any way,” and he added that he “admires” Mr Gove’s honesty.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said he was “unconcerned about Michael Gove’s past life or behaviour”.
But other MPs pushed for Mr Gove to campaign for reform and the potential decriminalisation of some drugs.
Tory former prisons minister Crispin Blunt said Mr Gove’s drug use “whilst illegal, was wholly unexceptional” and he should have acknowledged the need for reform of the law.
“The time has come for all serious politicians to engage with the debate around these issues,” said Mr Blunt, chairman of the all-party parliamentary group for drug policy reform.
“Sadly Michael – like others before him – has delivered a politically crafted and deeply unconvincing handwringing statement of regret for committing a victimless crime. The victims have largely been created by policy and the law.
“As a leadership candidate he should have used the opportunity of his own confession to join a vital and urgent policy debate.”
Having admitted using drugs, as a leadership candidate @michaelgove should have used the opportunity to reflect honestly on the implications of a policy which has wholly failed to deter drug use at an enormous human cost.https://t.co/hgVLdB94Uy
— Crispin Blunt MP (@CrispinBlunt) June 8, 2019
Green MP Caroline Lucas said it was “rank hypocrisy” to admit to “mistakes” while “backing policies that perpetuate harm”.
She tweeted: “From locking up disproportionate number of young, black men, to treating drug misuse as crime rather than health issue, prohibition fails us all.”
A number of contenders in the leadership race have admitted to varying degrees of drug use.
Rory Stewart apologised for smoking opium at a wedding in Iran, while Jeremy Hunt said he consumed a cannabis lassi while backpacking in India.
Mr Raab said he had taken cannabis as a student but had “never taken cocaine or any class A drugs”.
Andrea Leadsom told the Independent that she “smoked weed at university and have never smoked it again since”.
Mr Gove told the Daily Mail: “I took drugs on several occasions at social events more than 20 years ago.
“At the time I was a young journalist. It was a mistake. I look back and think ‘I wish I hadn’t done that’.
“It was 20 years ago and yes, it was a mistake. But I don’t believe that past mistakes disqualify you.”
Mr Gove, MP for Surrey Heath, said it would be up to his colleagues whether he should be leader, but added that he did not “act with an eye” on going into politics when he was younger.
“The question now is that people should look at my record as a politician and ask themselves ‘is this person we see ready to lead now?’,” he said.
Mr Gove’s wife Sarah Vine told reporters outside their London home on Saturday that the Cabinet minister was in his constituency.
Meanwhile his leadership campaign received a boost with an endorsement from Education Secretary Damian Hinds.