Source: The Guardian
4 August 2011
By Patrick Wintour
Liberal Democrats are expected to call for an independent inquiry into the decriminalisation of possession of all drugs.
A motion to be put at the party’s annual conference next month is likely to be passed, officials said.
It would be the first government-sponsored inquiry into decriminalisation, but is unlikely to have the support of David Cameron who has hardened his approach to drugs after being a past advocate of more liberal legislation as a member of the home affairs select committee. Ministerial sources point out that the government published a review of drugs strategy in 2010 and does not yet see any need for a rethink.
Senior Liberal Democrats believe Cameron and the home secretary, Theresa May, could be persuaded to hold an open-minded inquiry into a controversy which divides public, political and medical opinion.
The inquiry, the Liberal Democrats said, would look at reforms in Portugal which are said to have reduced problematic drug use through decriminalisation for personal use and investing in treatment centres.
The conference motion also calls for the inquiry to “examine heroin maintenance clinics in Switzerland and the Netherlands which have delivered great health benefits for addicts and considerable reductions in drug-related crime”.
Apart from Cameron, support for the inquiry would be needed from the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice and possibly the Department of Health.
The inquiry call follows a statement by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs which said: “People found to be in possession of drugs for any personal use and involved in no other criminal offences should not be processed through the criminal justice system, but diverted into drug education awareness courses, or possibly other more creative civil punishment.”
The call for the inquiry serves a wider purpose for the Liberal Democrats who need to restore their radical credentials with younger voters alienated by the party’s support for trebling of tuition fees.
The motion states: “Individuals, especially young people, can be damaged both by the imposition of criminal records and a drug habit and that the priority for those addicted to all substances must be health, education and rehabilitation”.
The motion also claims the proposal might also produce financial savings to stressed budgets in the Ministry of Justice and act as a return to evidence based policy in the field of drugs, a stance the Liberal Democrats claim Labour rejected by its persistent refusal to take on board official scientific advice to government.
The proposed inquiry would look at:
• Whether possession for personal use should not be a criminal offence.
• Whether possession should still be prohibited but police could only summon individuals to appear before panels tasked with determining education, health or social interventions.
• Potential frameworks for a strictly regulated cannabis market and the potential impacts on organised crime and the health of the public, especially children.
The motion also proposes the widespread availability of heroin maintenance clinics for the most problematic and vulnerable heroin users.
In the last extended parliamentary debate on the issue in March Lady Neville-Jones, then the drugs minister, said the review needed further time.
She challenged suggestions that Portugal had been a success story saying: “Some of the picture in Portugal is not so good. It is the country in Europe that has the second highest level of HIV.”Republish