Conference gets its wish – drug policy review announced

Liberal Democrats are always looking for distinctive ways to show that the party is making a difference in government – things we can proudly point to and say “look, we made this happen.” This week’s announcement that the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee is to launch a new inquiry into drugs policy is one that activists, MPs and Peers alike can rightly point to as an example of the positive influence Lib Dems have on public policy.

There is now widespread recognition that the UK’s drugs laws are ineffective and expensive, with MPs of all parties signing Tom Brake’s recent Early Day Motion that called for evidence-based drugs policy and encouraging noises from the likes of Conservative MP Mike Weatherley, member of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Reform.

One of the APPG’s Vice-Chairs, Lib Dem MP for Cambridge Julian Huppert, has long supported the calls for more rational, scientifically robust and evidence-based policies on drugs, and there’s little doubt that the presence of this leading advocate for reform on the Home Affairs Select Committee will have helped bring about the inquiry.

Emerging from the woodwork then are ‘current’ members of government willing to tackle this difficult but essential area of public policy, joining the chorus of ‘formers’ and ‘exes’ who have spoken out recently in favour of reform. As Julian told the BBC’s Mark Easton, Parliament may have held inquiries of this nature before, but since then there’s been a shift in public opinion regarding our drug laws – there’s considerable backing for significant reform:

Public opinion has changed. Lots and lots of people think that the current policy is not working. The mood has changed and there is far more evidence of the effectiveness of alternatives to the current policy.

So following the sterling work that Ewan Hoyle, Adam Corlett, Duncan Stott and others at the Liberal Democrats for Drug Policy Reform put in to getting Conference to back their brave motion, we have a welcome first step on the road to better drugs policy. As I said in the heartening Conference debate on drugs policy, we must also insist that such policy as is enacted be based on robust, independent scientific advice and evidence.

Should you wish to make a submission to the HASC inquiry, you should note the terms of reference and send your thoughts to the Committee by email, in no more than 2,500 words. With outstanding Liberal Democrat campaigners on this matter both within the Parliamentary Party and amongst the membership, we can be hopeful that such submissions will help bring about the much-needed reform of our outdated and ineffective drug laws.

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  • The coalition represents the best chance we have had in recent years to liberalise drug laws. Members of both parties want to do it (I think Cameron even supported it when he first entered Parliament) and the country’s looking to make savings wherever possible,which could persuade those who are not initially so keen. The party needs to make sure that it is consistently liberal when it comes to lifestyle choices, including with regards to drugs that are currently legal, such as nicotine and alcohol.

  • Daniel Henry 5th Dec '11 - 3:56pm

    Wow. Wasn’t expecting anything to happen this parliament.

    Here’s hoping this leads to a genuinely positive difference!

  • Legalise, regulate, tax. Preaching to the choir, I know. But this is very good news and if we’re really very lucky it might be possible to open up a new revenue stream that won’t depress activity in the rest of the economy. Deficit reduction without harmful cuts is perfectly possible when you’re willing to put everything on the table and think about it rationally.

  • Amen. We need a regulated drug market that completely removes the criminal (which is why decriminalisation doesn’t work). But I am not holding my breath that this will be adopted anytime soon.

  • Evan Harris 7th Dec '11 - 7:44am

    “That we’re in government and able to do this makes me happy.”

    Sorry to puncture the mood here, but this is a Parliamentary Inquiry by a pretty politcal Committee (which may do it properly however and come up with radical recommendnations, though I will wait for that!) and is not a Government Inquiry which is what we called for. The Government may just reject any recommendations that come forward and may resist doing the Inquiry we sought in the Conference motion, partly on the basis of the HAC doing it.

    To do this job properly requires a major systematic review of the evidence whcih is beyond the timescale and resources of a Select Committee.

    It may be better than nothing of course but to say that one forst has to recognise that otherwsie one has nothing.

  • Prateek Buch Prateek Buch 7th Dec '11 - 11:24am

    @Evan – I agree entirely that what’s needed is a proper Royal Commission with serious teeth, but this inquiry nonetheless represents a positive step in the right direction.

    It’s up to us to keep the pressure on so that the reforms we believe are necessary are brought in, at least someone in government is listening..!

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