Lib Dems overwhelmingly back overhaul of drug laws

By Ian Dunt

Liberal Democrat members voted overwhelmingly to investigate the decriminalisation of all drugs yesterday.

A passionate debate put forward by campaigner Ewan Hoyle saw delegates decide to establish a panel to carry out an impact assessment of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.

The panel would consider the economic, legal and medical repercussions of the Act and the alternative.

It would also look at replacing fines and jail sentences with educational and medical "Interventions".

Mr Hoyle said: "I want Nick Clegg to walk into David Cameron's office and say: 'This is part of what is needed to get the country out of a hole.'"

The vote gives the Liberal Democrats arguably the most radical drug policy of any of the three main parties since the Act was passed but it does not automatically translate into coalition policy.

Instead Lib Dem ministers will be expected to push for the policy in government.

While Nick Clegg and David Cameron are both privately sympathetic to reforming drug laws, the issue is considered politically toxic. Backbench Conservatives would be livid at any attempt to water down drug legislation.

In a sign of continued nerves over the issue, senior Liberal Democrats mostly stayed away from the debate yesterday.

The motion also expressed support for the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, which recently suffered from a bout of resignations following conflict with the Home Office.

The party supported it as a symbol of fact-based drug policy and stressed that no drug should be outlawed without its approval.