Nick Clegg: “If you are anti-drugs, you should be pro-reform”

by Stephen Tall on February 9, 2014

clegg drugs observerThe message may not be new – Nick Clegg first declared that “If you are anti-drugs, you should be pro-reform” back in December 2012 – but that’s no reason not to welcome the Lib Dem leader’s re-statement that urgent reform of the UK’s drugs laws is needed.

It’s the splash in today’s Observer, which reports:

In some of the most outspoken comments on the issue by a serving British politician, Clegg laments the current situation in which “one in five young people have admitted taking drugs in the last year”, and “cocaine use has more than trebled since 1996″ and claims that “every time someone dies of an overdose it should shame our political class”.

Looking to 2016, when the UN is due to hold a meeting to discuss potential reform of its prohibitionist drug conventions, Clegg states: “The UN drug conventions badly need revising. I want European countries to work together to agree a common position in favour of reform to take to that discussion in 2016. The UK can lead the debate in Europe and Europe can lead the debate in the world. But we must be prepared to start afresh with a new mindset and be prepared to do things differently.” …

Reiterating his call for a royal commission on Britain’s drugs laws, Clegg says future legislation should be based on “what works, not guesswork”. The Lib Dems are conducting a review of international alternatives which will produce what Clegg claims is “the first proper UK government report examining different approaches in other countries”.

It is clear the deputy prime minister believes there is a need for politicians of all parties to confront an issue in a non-partisan way if the harm caused by drugs is ever to be tackled successfully.

“If Britain were fighting a war where 2,000 people died every year, where increasing numbers of our young people were recruited by the enemy and our opponents were always a step ahead, there would be outcry and loud calls for change,” Clegg says. “Yet this is exactly the situation with the so-called “war on drugs” and for far too long we have resisted a proper debate about the need for a different strategy.”

There’s more in an opinion piece Nick has penned for the same paper, The lesson from Latin America: we need to rethink the drugs war:

Many people in Britain and the rest of Europe will still be unaware of the impact drug use in western nations has on countries on the frontline of the drugs trade. It is only right, then, that we play a part in helping to find a solution.

It is why I am a firm believer in the need for a royal commission in Britain and why I am so disappointed at my coalition partner’s refusal to engage in a proper discussion about the drugs problem.

We should be led by the evidence of what works, not guesswork. That is why the [Organisation of American States] study is so significant and why Liberal Democrats in government are conducting a study of international alternatives. This is the first proper UK government report examining the different approaches in other countries. …

I want to end the tradition where politicians only talk about drugs reform when they have left office because they fear the political consequences. This has stifled debate and inhibited a proper examination of our approach.

We need to bring this issue out into the open and to be led by the evidence of what works. We owe it to our young people, to the families torn apart by addiction and to the states that look to us for leadership and advice. We can help countries such as Colombia break the stranglehold of the drug lords once and for all.

The choice we have to make now is how we do things differently. Repeating the mistakes of the past is not the way to solve this problem in the future. Put simply, if you are anti-drugs, you should be pro-reform.

Good, important, liberal and (crucially) correct stuff from Nick. Let’s see now if any other party will have the courage to join him in promoting drugs policy which is designed to be effective, rather than just sound tough.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.