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British Lib Dems Call for Sweeping Drug Reforms [FEATURE]

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #701)
Consequences of Prohibition

Members of Britain's Liberal Democratic Party overwhelmingly adopted a resolution Sunday supporting the decriminalization of drug possession and the regulated distribution of marijuana and calling for an "impact assessment" of the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act that would provide a venue for considering decriminalization and controlled marijuana sales.

The resolution calls for an independent panel "to properly evaluate, economically and scientifically, the present legal framework for dealing with drugs in the United Kingdom." Citing the Portuguese decriminalization model, the resolution called for consideration of reforms so that "possession of any controlled drug for personal use would not be a criminal offense" or that "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."

The resolution also calls for the review to consider "alternative, potential frameworks for a strictly controlled and regulated cannabis market and the potential impacts of such regulation on organized crime, and the health and safety of the public, especially children."

The resolution includes a call for "widespread provision of the highest quality evidence-based medical, psychological and social services for those affected by drugs problems," including the widespread use of heroin maintenance clinics for hard-core addicts.

The resolution also offers support for the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), whose scientific integrity has been under attack first by the former Labor government, which resulted in a number of high profile resignations, and then by the Conservatives, who have put forth a plan to no longer require a certain number of scientists to sit on the council. The council should "retain a majority of independent scientific and social scientific experts in its membership," and no changes to the drug laws should take place without its advice, the resolution said.

The Liberal Democrats are the junior partner in Britain's coalition government, having brokered a deal with Conservatives after the last parliamentary elections. The resolution will put the party in conflict with the Conservatives, who are opposed to any liberalization of Britain's drug laws.

It also puts them at odds with Labor, which after a brief dalliance with downgrading marijuana offenses in 2004, overrode the advice of the ACMD to restore the old, harsher penalties the following year. The Liberal Democrats can continue to boast of having the most progressive drug policy position of any of Britain's major parties.

The resolution was introduced by Ewan Hoyle, delegate from Glasgow South and founder of Liberal Democrats for Drug Policy Reform. Politicians have tip-toed around drug policy reform because of "cowardice, pure cowardice," he said. Instead of panicking over what the tabloids might say, Hoyle added, "It's time politicians looked voters in the eye and attempted to explain complex concepts. I want [Liberal Democratic leader] Nick Clegg to walk into [Prime Minister] David Cameron's office and say: 'This is part of what is needed to get the country out of a hole.'"

While most party front-benchers stayed out of the debate, MP Tom Brake, co-chair of the Home Affairs Parliamentary Party Committee, congratulated delegates on passage of the resolution.

"Today, Liberal Democrats reaffirmed our support for an evidenced based drugs policy, calling for an independent panel to review current drug laws," Brake said after passage. "We want to ensure the Government has a clear focus on prevention and reducing harm by investing in education, treatment and rehabilitation, and moving away from criminalizing individuals and vulnerable drug users. We need proper regulation and investment if we are to get to the root of the battle with drugs. Liberal Democrats are the only party prepared to debate these issues."

The Conservatives were quick to go on the attack. The resolution "sends out the message that taking drugs is okay, but it is not," Tory MP Charles Walker told the tabloid Daily Mail. "If the Liberal Democrats think taking heroin, cocaine and smoking skunk is okay, then that is up to them, but the government and I think most people in Britain do not agree with them."

While Labor continues to back away from drug reform, at least one Labor MP congratulated the Liberal Democrats on the resolution.

"The resolution passed should be acceptable to all but the most prejudiced MPs," said MP Paul Flynn, a long-time supporter of drug law reform. "But what next? Will someone take the campaign forward in Parliament?" he asked. "I've tried several times with bills and debates. I still have the scars to prove it. But, contrary to popular belief, advocating the end of drug prohibition is not an electoral liability. If it was I would have been rejected by the voters twenty years ago. This is an era when there is respect for strongly held independent views that challenge accepted foolishness."

Flynn could not resist a chance to jab at Prime Minister Cameron -- who supported drug legalization before he opposed it -- and the Liberal Democrats as well.

"An additional reason why drugs reform may be successful is that we have a Prime Minister who understands the argument," Flynn noted. "He wrote a great column in 2002 setting out the alternatives. The vote was practically unanimous this afternoon. Will the Lib Dems have the cojones to implement their conference policy?"

It may not be just a matter of cojones, but also of numbers, said Steve Rolles of the Transform Drug Policy Institute.

"This is Liberal Democratic policy only, and they are the minority partner in the coalition government," he noted. "They have had a pretty strong drug policy position for years, but the problem has been that it has been a shield issue for them rather than a sword issue. They have not wanted to take the lead on it because the leadership sees it as a potential liability rather than a strength. They have made the intellectual journey, but are afraid to commit on the political side."

But now the Liberal Democrats have passed their resolution, even if party leader Nick Clegg has been noticeably silent on the issue, and that puts the issue squarely before the public again. That's a good thing, said Rolles.

"The Tories will certainly need to respond, and will be made to look trenchant, anti-evidence, and dogmatic as a result," the analyst said. "Labor may move slightly, but I think they are biding their time to see what the public reaction will be. All the parties know that drug policy reform must happen at some point, but none want to move on it until they are more confident it will play well politically," he said.

"This pushes the debate into the political mainstream, which is always helpful, not least because it provides cover for others to take a public position on reform," Rolles continued. "We know that exposure to informed debate on this issue tends to move opinion in a positive direction so that is also a positive.  This isn't a seismic moment but it is another step in the right direction. Undermining the creaking edifice of prohibition is an attritional process."

The Liberal Democratic Party has had its say on drug policy reform this past weekend. Now, the question is how the party leadership responds and whether Labor and the Conservatives can be moved on the issue. It looks like the drug debate is heating up again in Britain.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Pam gari (not verified)

Maybe this will wake Obama up.

Why is it perfectly fine to use another language to refer to testicular fortitude? 

My other half is British, and I won't be surprised at all if they are the first to abolish prohibition.  Balls is one thing that the British have no shortage of.

Thu, 09/22/2011 - 1:15am Permalink
Brandon E. (not verified)

writer's block is not a illness, and if you go around spouting that it is, you'll be ridiculed, and rightly so.

Thu, 09/22/2011 - 7:41am Permalink
glene (not verified)

This might take sometime to be resolved. Drug legalization acts will always be a source of heated debates. This is not only about the general public, this is more of staying politically afloat.

Thu, 09/22/2011 - 11:30am Permalink
Peter Reynolds (not verified)

The LibDem conference debate was interesting but much more in depth research and proposals were put forward last week in Britain by Cannabis Law Reform (CLEAR).

CLEAR published a study from the Independent Drug Monitoring Unit which shows that a tax and regulate policy on cannabis would reduce all health and social harms, better protect children and the vulnerable while contributing a net gain of £6.7 billion per annum to the UK exchequer.  This is an enormous sum of money, equivalent to three times the annual budget of the Department of Energy.  CLEAR also published highly detailed proposals for how regulation would work.

The documents are available on the CLEAR website


Thu, 09/22/2011 - 1:58pm Permalink
Jim Rogers (not verified)

Cowardice, you blokes hit the nail on the head with that one. Not only are they afraid of the electorate, but just like every other country in the free world, they are scared the death of the American conservative establishment.

If it can possibly be done(ending prohibition that is), I believe Great Briton can do it. Just like in your country,our politicians live in a bubble totally unaware of what is really important to a majority of American people.

Thu, 09/22/2011 - 7:59pm Permalink
Jeff Green (not verified)

This was great to hear, finally some decent scale, open and sensible debate on the facts, not the political propaganda. Cannabis in particular is basically utterly harmless. The only bad cases that appear (and are such a small ratio that more people are harmed by peanuts)  are of children of around 12 - 15 starting to smoke huge amounts of the strongest possible buds all day every's no wonder some of these children have a bad reaction. If a 12 year old started drinking spirits all day, ever day they would be dead in a matter of days, let alone showing signs of mental problems years later.


Cannabis is harmless and should be utterly legal with a simple age restriction as with tobacco and alcohol (both of which are more dangerous). MDMA/ecstasy needs to be legal, so that people can get it pure. It's only dangerous when it's been cut with rubbish by street dealers, caused by it's prohibition.


Heroin needs to be used in moderation, medically, and open clinics and counselling available for those unfortunate enough to get hooked on it recreationally. Clean needles and open education provided, not dogmatic, propaganda based nonsense. Children need to be treated with respect on these issues, because otherwise they will smoke cannabis, realise it's harmless and then think all other illegal drugs are harmless too.


Alot needs to be discussed on these issues, but what is obvious to anyone is that lying to children and punishing people who use even the completely harmless things like a bit of herb is wrong and detrimental to society and the economy. There is NO benefit for anyone there. LEGALISE AND REGULATE!

Tue, 09/27/2011 - 1:25pm Permalink
mr uk smith (not verified)

The cost of treating alcohol related disease is £167 million per year  In total 8,758 deaths were linked to alcohol in 2006, compared to 4,144 deaths in 1991.

Cigarette smoking is the greatest single cause of illness and premature death in the UK  About 100,000 people in the UK die each year due to smoking. Smoking-related deaths are mainly due to cancers, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and heart disease

MARIJUANA CURES CANCER-----> "Numerous diseases, such as anorexia, emesis, pain, inflammation, multiple sclerosis, neurodegenerative disorders (Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease, Tourette's syndrome, Alzheimer's disease), epilepsy, glaucoma, osteoporosis, schizophrenia, cardiovascular disorders, cancer, obesity, and metabolic syndrome-related disorders, to name just a few, are being treated or have the potential to be? treated by Cannabinoid agonists/antagonists/Cannabino id-related compounds." Basically cannabis helps the body function normally and disease is not normal. Do your research. The govt' and pharm. companies are profiting from its prohibition. Spread the word. Save someone or yourselfs

Deaths that have ever occurred in direct result of Cannabis: 0
(that's right ZERO)

take over the bad guys market and make it better

Sun, 11/13/2011 - 10:49pm Permalink

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