We're excited to see that a promising development in the UK debate is being widely reported today; the Lib Dems are to debate a motion at this years annual conference that takes a wide ranging look at drug law reform - specifically considering both decriminalisation of personal drug possession, and regulated cannabis markets. In many respects this isn't new territory for the Lib Dems - who have a long history of more rational thinking on the drugs issue than the other two main UK parties. They have had a call for legalisation and regulation of cannabis (albeit with some caveats) as official policy since 2002, and something resembling the decrim call (minus specifics) was actually in their 2010 election manifesto:
"Ensure that financial resources, and police and court time, are not wastedParty leader Nick Clegg, has also gone on the record in the past in favour of progressive drug law reform including legalisation and regulation (as indeed has David Cameron). The significant development then is not the emergence of the proposals themselves, but the fact that they have been accepted for debate at conference. The Lib Dem campaigners responsible for the motion (The Lib Dems for Drug Policy Reform group) have been pushing such motions for years without much luck. It could be that the Lib Dems are keen to put some distance between themselves ad the Tories with some progressive liberal ideas, but nonetheless, it's a clear sign of the changing climate that this motion is now on the table, and will be fascinating to see how the debate develops if it is adopted by one of the coalition government partners.
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's worth reading the conference motion (below) in full - which hasn't been included in any of the media coverage thus far (although the Independent has a supportive leader). Its almost alarmingly measured and reasonable. Event the Daily Mail reports it fairly straight, paying lip service to the usual antis, and not editorialising on it. It's almost as if they couldn't be bothered to get outraged about it...
The motion also highlights the important observation - thus far seemingly unnoticed by the media - that the ACMD, in effect backed the decrim concept (albeit calling it the more politically palatable 'diversion', rather than the more loaded term 'decriminalisation') in its submission to the drug strategy consultation last year.
We're delighted to see that the motion begins with a call for an Impact Assessment of the Misuse of Drugs Act. A position that Transform has been advocating for many years.
Protecting individuals and communities from drug harms
1) That drugs are powerful substances which can have serious consequences for the individual user and society in general; and that it is therefore right and proper that the state should intervene to regulate and control the use of such substances as it does the consumption of legal drugs such as alcohol and tobacco and both prescription and over the counter medicines.
2) That the misuse of drugs can blight the lives of individuals and families and the purchase of illegal drugs can help to fuel organised crime.
3) The need for evidence-based policy making on drugs with a clear focus on prevention and harm-reduction.
4) 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.
Conference further notes:
A. The positive evidence from new approaches elsewhere including Portuguese reforms that have been successful in reducing problematic drug use through decriminalising possession for personal use of all drugs and investing in treatment programmes.
B. That those countries and states that have decriminalised possession of some or all drugs have not seen increased use of those drugs relative to their neighbours.
C. That heroin maintenance clinics in Switzerland and The Netherlands have delivered great health benefits for addicts while delivering considerable reductions in drug-related crime and prevalence of heroin use.
D. The contribution of the ACMD to the 2010 Drug Strategy consultation which states that “people found to be in possession of drugs (any) for personal use (and involved in no other criminal offences) should not be processed through the criminal justice system but instead be diverted into drug education/awareness courses or possibly other, more creative civil punishment”.
E. The report of the Global Commission on Drug Policy whose members include former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, former heads of state of Colombia, Mexico, Brazil and Switzerland, the current Prime Minister of Greece, a former US Secretary of State and many other eminent world figures, which encouraged governments to consider the legal regulation of drugs in order to, “undermine the power of organised crime and safeguard the health and security of their citizens”.
F. That the United Kingdom remains bound by various international conventions and that any re-negotiation or new agreements will require international co-ordination.
i) That individuals, especially young people, can be damaged both by the imposition of criminal records and by a drug habit, and that the priority for those addicted to all substances must be health care, education and rehabilitation not punishment.
ii) Governments should reject policies if they are demonstrated to be ineffective in achieving their stated goals and should seek to learn from policies which have been successful.
iii) At a time when Home Office and Ministry of Justice spending is facing considerable contraction, thereis a powerful case for examining whether an evidence-based policy would produce savings allowing the quality of service provided by these departments to be maintained or to improve.
iv) That 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.
v) That the Department of Health should take on a greater responsibility for dealing with drugs.
Conference calls for:
a) The Government to immediately establish an independent panel tasked with carrying out an Impact Assessment of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, to properly evaluate, economically and scientifically, the present legal framework for dealing with drugs in the United Kingdom.
b) The Panel should also consider reform of the law, based on the Portuguese model, such that i) possession of any controlled drug for personal use would not be a criminal offence;
ii) possession would be prohibited but should cause police officers to issue citations for individuals to appear before panels tasked with determining appropriate education, health or social interventions.
c) The panel should also consider as an alternative, potential frameworks for a strictly controlled and regulated cannabis market and the potential impacts of such regulation on organised crime, and the health and safety of the public, especially children.
d) The reinvestment of any resources released into effective education, treatment and rehabilitation programmes.
e) The widespread provision of the highest quality evidence-based medical, psychological and social services for those affected by drugs problems. These services should include widespread availability of heroin maintenance clinics for the most problematic and vulnerable heroin users.