Continuing with our coverage of election party manifesto commitments on drug policy, today its the turn of the Lib Dems. (see Labour here and the Conservatives here). Unlike Labour and the Conservatives, the 2010 Lib Dem manifesto, published this morning, opts for a more functional title: 'Liberal Democrat Manifesto 2010'
In line with the other main parties, drug policy only appears in the crime chapter, with nothing in the sections on health, education or families. In the 'Your community' chapter, that covers crime issues, under the heading 'practical steps to make you safer - we get two specific drug policy commitments:
"Ensure that financial resources, and police and court time, are not wasted on the unnecessary prosecution and imprisonment of drug users and addicts; the focus instead should be on getting addicts the treatment they need. Police should concentrate their efforts on organised drug pushers and gangs."It is not clear if this is a call for de-facto decriminalisation of possession (through non-enforcement), as has happened in a number of countries across the world, or just a shift of emphasis in enforcement - more detail is clearly needed on specifics here. The last sentence is telling, in terms of the total failure to recognise, (or at least articulate) that it is primarily the enforcement of supply side prohibition that turns drug use into a crime issue in the first instance. This position undermines an otherwise welcome call in the next paragraph, to:
"Always base drugs policy on independent scientific advice, including making the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs completely independent of government."In the same chapter, under the heading 'making the justice system work to rehabilitate criminals and reduce crime' two more commitments (the former not specifically drug related but obviously relevant):
"Introduce a presumption against short-term sentences of less than six months – replaced by rigorously enforced community sentences which evidence shows are better at cutting reoffending." (this commitment also appears in the 'Your money' chapter under a list of where government savings will be made)This is essentially all there is, excepting a mention of being 'critical supporters of the Afghan Mission' in the 'Your World' chapter. Drugs, however, are are not specifically mentioned, the stated aim only being to 'stabilise Afghanistan enough to allow British troops to come home during the next Parliament'.
"Move offenders who are drug addicts or mentally ill into more appropriate secure accommodation."
The tone of the Lib Dems drug policy (and criminal justice policy more generally) is notably different from that of the other two main parties, with a seemingly more upfront commitment to evidence over punitive populism. The exception is the above reference to "pushers" which is rather old-school fear mongering language, and a term notably not used to describe those who aggressively market alcohol or tobacco.
That said, the commitment to 'Always base drugs policy on independent scientific advice' does set the Lib Dems aside from the other parties regards how the Government deals with the ACMD, although it would be good to see what an ACMD 'completely independent of government' means in practical terms (this would presumably involve redrafting the Misuse of Drugs Act). Also clearly related to the ACMD-saga is a commitment, appearing in the 'Your Job' section under the heading 'creating a dynamic environment for science and innovation' to:
"Safeguard academic freedom and the independence of scientific advisers by amending the Ministerial Code to prevent government from bullying or mistreating advisers and distorting evidence or statistics. "
The 2010 commitments offer marginally more detail than the Lib Dems 2005 manifesto , which was also far more concise overall.
Once again there is nothing on drugs in the health, family and education chapters, and we have to wait until the chapter 3 on crime, 'Tackling Crime, Defending Liberty'. Under a subheading '10,000 more police on the street - cut crime and the fear of crime':
On the same page under the different subheading 'Quality investigations, safe convictions, fighting crime and terror' :
"We will increase police resources to improve the detection and investigation of crime. We will create a co-ordinated UK BorderForce to strengthen the country’s borders against terrorism, people trafficking and drug smuggling."The most obvious change between 2005 and 2010 is the dropping of any direct mention of cannabis, presumably reflecting the minefield that issue become in the intervening years, although the 2010 commitments regarding the ACMD are arguably at least an indirect nod to cannabis policy.
What you do not learn from either manifestos is that the Lib Dems do in fact have a more detailed official drug policy document, that was developed in 2002, titled Honesty, Realism, Responsibility: Proposals for the Reform of Drugs Law that is - from Transform's perspective - far more pragmatic and forward looking than anything to emerge from the other two major parties. It contains a strong critique of prohibition generally, and openly explores ideas for decriminalisation of personal drug possession, and legal regulated cannabis supply, albeit caveated with the need for UN convention reform as a precondition. They are unique amongst the three main parties in having engaged with these ideas.
Whilst the Lib Dems appear to have made the intellectual journey on drug policy reform, they have still shied away from it when it comes to front line politics. For them it remains an issue on which they have generally been defensive, (choosing to avoid - sometimes even deny) rather than one they actively campaign on.