Does Nick Clegg still want to decriminalise cannabis?

It is increasingly clear that the Westminster bubble cannot shield itself from the debate on drug reform much longer.

Most politicians are terrified to express a firm opinion on drug policy reform, judging that breaking ranks and incurring the wrath of the right-wing press is not worth the hassle.

Nick Clegg called this a “conspiracy of silence”, sustained by politicians scared of opening up a controversial debate. Yet this implicit collusion is perfectly demonstrated by the difference between Nick Clegg’s beliefs in Europe and Nick Clegg’s beliefs in Westminster.

As a member of the European Parliament in 2002, Clegg supported a motion calling for the “legal control and regulation of the production, sale and use of currently illegal substances”, including “partially decriminalising the sale of cannabis” and “making heroin available under medical supervision”.

Since becoming an MP, however, he had largely avoided the drugs debate until his call last December for a Royal Commission to examine Britain’s drug laws. Even then, he was cautious and spoke in hints and generalities, avoiding the specific proposals he supported in Europe and straining to avoid mentioning decriminalisation.

There was further Lib Dem activity last Friday when Norman Baker, the Home Office minister responsible for drug policy, suggested that legal highs could be licensed and sold in regulated, blacked-out high street shops.

It is unclear whether the growing Lib Dem interest in drug policy over the past few months signals a move towards a radical 2015 manifesto pledge on drug reform, presumably starting with decriminalising cannabis, or whether drug reform will be just another thwarted Lib Dem ambition.

Both a Royal Commission and licensed legal high shops have been flatly rejected by the Tories, but the Lib Dems still plan to plough ahead with their own review of alternative international drug policies regardless.

Whatever the Lib Dems decide, it is clear that the Westminster bubble cannot shield itself from the debate on drug reform much longer.

First, voters are increasingly receptive to reforming drug laws. A narrow majority (53 per cent) now support legalising or decriminalising cannabis and, revealingly, forty-six percent of Daily Mail readers agree too. The Daily Mail may present itself as a bulwark against the soft, do-gooding liberal Establishment, but a vast chunk of its readers are now in favour of changing the law on drugs. The impact of a ‘tough on drugs’ media backlash is wildly exaggerated.

Second, international factors are favourable to drug reform, especially as alternative approaches emerge. Uruguay declared that the ‘war on drugs’ has failed, and is now the first country to legalise and tightly regulate the production, sale and use of cannabis.

The political impact of British drug policy on the rest of the world is often overshadowed by the widely accepted and widely abused idea that impartial, scientific evidence is sufficient to make good drug policy.

Given the colossal illegal drug industry that cuts across national boundaries, international co-ordination is clearly needed for any reforms to be fully effective. The run-up to the 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session on drug policy, initiated by Latin American states which face the consequences of the rest of the world’s drug laws, is an ideal opportunity and will trigger debate across the world.

Finally, an eclectic mix of experts, celebrities and campaigners in favour of drug reform are getting their message heard and making drug reform a mainstream issue. A petition started by Green MP Caroline Lucas – backed by Russell Brand, Richard Branson and Sting – passed the 100,000 signature mark needed for a debate in Parliament to be considered.

All sides of the debate base their argument on ‘reducing harm’. A truly bold move by any political party could finally allow the debate on how best to achieve this goal – a debate raging outside of Westminster – to break through.

13 Responses to “Does Nick Clegg still want to decriminalise cannabis?”

  1. Wayne Pooney

    MP Theresa May made the decision to ban the mild stimulant Khat, despite the fact this goes against the advice of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. The council reached the conclusion that there was “insufficient evidence” it caused health problems, while May argued that the mere possibility of the existence of evidence was a grounds for banning something.

    There is more than enough evidence in existence for the detriment alcohol and tobacco have on society, but they remain legal. Cannabis, with no deaths ever recorded, high potential for clinical use as well as commercial value in by products like fibre, remains illegal.

    The decision of cockhat politicians like David Cameron and Theresa May means more money for organised crime and fewer options for people suffering from cancer, MS, seizures and a variety of other conditions.

    These politicians don’t care about the public, only about staying in power. They’re too afraid to approach the issue because they risk alienating their constituency, rather than taking the time to educate them.

    I guess that’s just the way you think when daddy’s connections gets you a job in politics, rather than the public putting you there.

  2. Peter Reynolds

    It is simply astonishing that anyone on the ‘left’ (outdated term that it is) should try to claim some sort of moral superiority or leadership in drug law reform!

    The ‘left’s’ record in such issues of liberty and evidence-based policy is simply appalling. No party has shown such cowardice, resort to authoritarianism and ignorance than Labour. Even now, Miliband is the only party leader who is so terrified of the truth that he won’t even comment on the issue. Even Nigel Farage has better libertarian credentials on this issue than anyone in the dumbed-down, lowest common denominator, enemies of freedom called socialists.

    You’re also completely wrong when you suggest that “All sides of the debate base their argument on ‘reducing harm’.”. This is precisely what the 2010 UK drug strategy abandoned in favour of the unrealistic goal of ‘abstinence’, exactly the same cruel and idiotic idea that the comic Russell Brand advocates.

    The LibDems are the only hope we have of drug policy reform and they have far more support amongst their coalition partners, the Tories , than can be found on the Labour benches.

    In a wider context, the LibDems and a second coalition with the Tories is the only chance Britain has of evading the disaster that would be a Labour government. That’s why, for the first time ever, both for drug law reform and the future of our country, I shall be voting LibDem in 2015. It’s only Nick and co that can protect us from the worst excesses of the Bullingdon Club and the farce that is the Labour party.

  3. Peter Reynolds

    Agreed except that it’s not fear of “alienating their constituency”, it’s fear of Big Booze and the tabloid press. Those are the reasons that cannabis prohibition remains in place, just the same as it did under Labour.

  4. Sciamachy

    Left & right are irrelevant when it comes to drugs policy. Both Labour & Tories are basically authoritarian, and actually Labour is more centre-right since Blair. It’s a matter of libertarian (small l – not the Ayn Rand numbskulls) vs authoritarian – does the state have the right to interfere when you do something harmless that only affects you, or not? Those who espouse the opposite of the mainstream authoritarianism say no, it doesn’t.

  5. uglyfatbloke

    Fear if the daily Mail is the main issue. Plenty of MPs across the parties are well aware that the drug laws are useless in themselves and that they are often applied in a manner that depends on class and race, but they are afraid to speak out honestly. Some of them surround themselves with excuses, saying things like ‘I’ve seen figures that show cannabis causes …whatever…’ without mentioning that the ‘figures’ were supplied by scam ‘charities’ whose main function is to provide comfortable salaries for directors.
    Additionally, some politicians and some senior police officers (most police officers at the front line would favour decriminalisation/legalisation so they can get on with more significant work) just enjoy power.
    None of the parties has a good record on personal liberty; they offer ‘the freedom to do as you’re told’. None of them are interested in evidence and several figures have been prepared to take positions based on sheer dishonesty just to get a favourable write-up in the press. Bluntly, they are prepared to lie – simple as that.
    In the meantime, people with MS, ME, glaucoma, migraine, appetite loss due to chemotherapy, certain forms of epilepsy, insomnia and god-alone-knows what else are obliged to support the crime industry in order to get relief. .

  6. Dave

    Both Labour and Tories are authoritarian, but to assert that “Labour is centre-right” is a leftwing fairy tale used to avoid facing the reality that leftist egalitarian politics REQUIRE authority and use of force to put into motion. If Labour were further left like they were in the 70s, they would necessarily be even more authoritarian, not less. They are a centre-left party acting the same way all centre-left social democratic parties act.

    I agree that the political spectrum fairly irrelevant on the issue of drugs. Every political persuasion can find their own reasons for ending prohibition, whether it’s on grounds of privacy/personal freedom, responsibility, free trade, social justice, religious freedom, health, economic arguments or any other reason. Though they can also find a wide range of reasons for sustaining it.

  7. Transformdrugs

    Brand’s views have evolved since some of his previous statements. He is now making a second documentary on harm reduction http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/08/25/russell-brand-insite_n_3814734.html?just_reloaded=1

  8. Sciamachy

    If leftist egalitarian politics require authority, explain the anarchist successes in Barcelona in 1936 or the Makhnovists in the Ukraine 1918-1921. The only authority they had was that derived from a well-informed & mobilised working class, with decisions taken collectively. Anarchism works, which is why authoritarians do their best to crush it the moment it emerges.

  9. Jane Peters

    If it was legalized the black market would disappear. And you wouldn’t have to lock people up anymore. That would save a lot of money. It could be taxed and the proceeds could be used on education or anything else that’s needed.

  10. Jocelyn

    Drug use is a health issue not a criminal offence. There is an inherent hypocrisy when users are tolerated but it’s a crime to supply. Legal Highs should not be legalised. Cannabis should be legalised, and licensed, and regulated.

  11. rusty

    Cameron smoked cannabis at college and as an mp was all for reform until he became pm! Please google dr sanja gupta from cnn america and watch his documentary called WEED! the law is as ass as things stand!.

  12. masterblaster

    These polititions should google Charlotts web, seizures. Take a look as a parent and decide if reform is needed……….

  13. nooneatallhere

    At least Norman Baker refused to implement the ban on khat. Theresa may had to get the organised crime minister to do it. Now khat is controlled by the criminal gangs, and its value artificially inflated, and its users now considered criminals.. Prohibition is an insane harm maximising evil.

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