The time for action on drugs reform is now

March 4, 2015 11:33 AM
Originally published by UK Liberal Democrats

Nick Clegg has today confirmed the Liberal Democrat manifesto will contain the most far-reaching drug reform policies ever put forward by a major political party ahead of an election.

He made the announcement at an event at Chatham House alongside entrepreneur Richard Branson, a member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy.

Speaking at the event, Nick said:

"Drugs reform, like prison reform, is one of those issues that political parties always talk big about in opposition, only to fall silent and do nothing in Government. Not the Liberal Democrats.

"As part of the Coalition Government, we've continued to fight for change. We believe the time for action on drugs reform is now.

"I'm incredibly frustrated that, after five years in Coalition, we cannot take our work to its logical conclusion - just because the Tories are scared of being branded soft on drugs.

"It's time for the Conservatives and Labour to realise that the world has moved on, reform is no longer a taboo subject and voters expect politicians to deliver results based on solid evidence, not overblown rhetoric."

The plans include:

  • Adopting the approach used in Portugal, where those arrested for possession of drugs for personal use are diverted into treatment, education or civil penalties that do not attract a criminal record.
  • Legislating to end the use of imprisonment for possession of drugs for personal use, diverting resources towards tackling organised drug crime instead, as a first step towards reforming the system.
  • Continuing to apply severe penalties to those who manufacture, import or deal in illegal drugs, and clamp down on those who produce and sell unregulated chemical highs.
  • Establishing a review to assess the effectiveness of the cannabis legalisation experiments in the United States and Uruguay, in relation to public health and criminal activity.
  • Legislating to make the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs independent in setting the classification of drugs, while remaining accountable to Parliament and the wider public.
  • Enabling doctors to prescribe cannabis for medicinal use.
  • Putting the Department of Health rather than the Home Office in charge of drug policy.

Nick added:

"The first step is to recognise that drug use is primarily a health issue. That's why, in our manifesto, the Liberal Democrats will commit to move the responsibility for drug policy from the Home Office to the Department of Health. Tackling supply is a matter for the police so that will stay with the Home Office. But reducing demand and minimising harm are questions of public health.

"Secondly, we will re-focus resources away from prosecuting people whose only crime is that they have used drugs, or are addicted to drugs. The international evidence very clearly shows that handing out criminal records to users does nothing to reduce overall levels of drugs use.

"We know that around one third of British adults have taken illegal drugs in their lifetime, with approximately one in five 16-24 year olds taking drugs in the last year alone. For many, it's something you try when you're young then grow out of.

"But, in this country, if you're a young person - say out at a club with friends - and you get arrested for possession of a small amount of drugs, it's likely you'll end up with a criminal record. That means this stupid youthful mistake could damage your whole future - possibly stopping you from getting the job you want, whether it's as a doctor, nurse, teacher or even taxi-driver.

"What would you do? If this was your child and you found those drugs would you go to a doctor or police officer to help them? I think nearly all of us would call the health expert. And, in the same way, I just don't think it's right for us as a society to write off these young people who haven't hurt anyone else, just made the wrong choice, so early. We need to put an end to this ludicrous situation. Our focus should be on getting them the help they need, not punishment, so they can go on to realise their ambitions and make a positive contribution to society.

"That's why the Lib-Dems believe these resources should instead be ploughed into smarter enforcement and greater availability of treatment.

"So we will develop diversionary programmes to take users out of the criminal justice system altogether, ensure that those who need treatment get it, and find more effective ways to reduce or end their drug use.

"I want a see a system where anyone who is arrested for possession of drugs for their own personal use gets either treatment (if they need it), education, or a civil fine."