Budding reformists: Campaigners want laws around cannabis reform

Experts back Lib Dems drug vote

Experts back Lib Dems drug vote

By Ian Dunt

Drug experts have backed a Liberal Democrat vote on decriminalising narcotics set to take place next week.

The UK Drugs Policy Commission raised some concerns about the motion but said it supported the broad thrust of the motion.

The commission, which includes former Medical Research Council chief executive Professor Colin Blakemore, was particularly critical of criminal records, which make it much harder for former addicts to get a job and therefore encourages them back towards drugs.

The Liberal Democrat motion would scrap criminal penalties for personal possession, create a heavily regulated market in cannabis and provide clinics for persistent heroin users.

The move would likely prompt friction with the Lib Dems' Conservative coalition partners, whose rank-and-file membership are strongly opposed to any change to drug laws.

David Cameron's record as a backbencher was distinctly liberal when it came to drug reform. He called for heroin 'shooting rooms' and a public health approach to drug use before taking the leadership.

Drug liberalisation views are surprisingly popular in Westminster circles, but it has been considered politically impossible for several years, mostly due to fear of the tabloid reaction and the views of 'middle-England' voters.

Former defence secretary Bob Ainsworth quickly came out against the "disaster" of drug regulation after leaving his front bench position.

Nick Clegg is understood to be distinctly relaxed about the motion, however, suggesting the Lib Dem leadership will not back down in the event of a yes vote.

There is "increasing evidence that the UK's drugs policy is not only ineffective and not cost-effective but actually harmful, impacting particularly severely on the poor and marginalised", the motion reads.

"Individuals, especially young people, can be damaged both by the imposition of criminal records and by a drug habit, and… the priority for those addicted to all substances must be healthcare, education and rehabilitation, not punishment.

"One of the key barriers to developing better drugs policy has been the previous Labour government's persistent refusal to take on board scientific advice, and the absence of an overall evaluative framework of the UK's drugs strategy."

The demand comes amid unparalleled change internationally on drug laws, with several highly-respected figures and institutions calling for a more liberal policy on narcotics.

The Global Commission on Drugs Police, headed by former UN secretary general Kofi Annan recently called for world governments to consider regulating the drug trade.