Julian Huppert MP writes… Drugs: We will be judged by what we achieve

Last year, the Lib Dems passed a near-unanimous Conference motion calling for a complete review of the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act. It included a call to “consider reform of the law, based on the Portuguese model”.

Today, the cross-Party Home Affairs Select Committee, of which I am a Member, has endorsed that position, and told the Government that they must focus on reducing the damage caused by drugs, rather than hard-line posturing.

I wrote about it in the Guardian this morning:

Despite 50 years of criminalisation, illicit drugs are now the third most valuable industry in the world, after food and oil. Presidents of supply countries, such as Colombia, are desperately calling for a rethink.

We’re stuck in a pointless “war on drugs”. It’s not working and it costs us heavily, in human terms – with people addicted, incarcerated and burgled – and in financial terms. The UK spends more on drug policy than any other country in Europe, but has the highest usage of several class A drugs.
Every person who uses drugs in Britain is treated in exactly the same way: as a criminal and a prisoner. Far too little effort and support is given to treatment; to helping people come off addictive drugs.

Ultimately, we are neither reducing harm, nor reducing demand. Thoughtless, ineffective and costly, drugs policy in this country and across the globe has been a complete shambles.

Today, the cross-party home affairs select committee publishes a report into drug policy. We have spent a year collecting and evaluating the evidence. Our findings are stark.

You can read the full piece here:

As Ewan Hoyle – founder of Liberal Democrats for Drug Policy Reform and a driving force behind our new policy – argued this summer, our policy is not only right, it’s also increasingly popular.

While the Home Secretary, in typical fashion, dismissed the Committee’s specific call for a Royal Commission, Jeremy Browne made some positive noises about the evidence we gathered and the need for the Government to listen to our report and look at new ideas. He also committed to looking at the model in Portugal.

That’s far further than any other noises I’ve ever heard from the Home Office. And far further than the other two Parties are willing to go – either in or out of Government if you’ve seen the Labour Party response this morning!

Clearly, we will be judged by what it is we achieve. We have to keep the public pressure up, and ward off Tory and Labour calls to carry on with business as usual. Like with the Committee’s report, all it takes is a proper look at the evidence, and we can get a policy which works. I hope that with a push from our side in the Home Office, we can get a real change.

* Julian Huppert was the Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge from 2010-15

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  • Alex Matthews 10th Dec '12 - 2:53pm

    Regardless of ones personal feelings towards drug usage, it is good to hear that there are finally noises from the top calling for a rethink.

  • Quite right. It would be a great shame if all the hard work that Julian and others have done was for nothing.

    Our voters might be pleased to find that having Lib Dems in government – and in the Home Office, no less! – does actually have a perceptible impact. So far the reaction from government to yet another drugs policy report doesn’t seem at all different from when Labour were in power: not a way to enthuse members and voters.

  • Daniel Henry 10th Dec '12 - 5:37pm

    I really do think this is an issue where we could really separate ourselves from both Labour and the Tories. It would be a serious breakaway from “politics as usual”.

    It would also be a victory for party democracy.
    Didn’t this review start shortly after Ewan’s motion passed?
    The fact that our members have been able to affect government policy like this would be a great advertisement for our role in government.

  • Richard Swales 11th Dec '12 - 8:25am

    The question is, why do we need to have a review or a commission? Either we believe we are entitled to use our greater control of the state to decide “in the public interest” these matters for someone else with less control or don’t. If we don’t believe that then we don’t need a review, we are distinctive, and we should legalise (not decriminalise) now. If we believe we are entitled then we just differ from the other parties on tactics and are not distinctive in any meaningful way.

  • Richard Dean 11th Dec '12 - 10:07am

    I haven’t had time to read more that the “Key facts” and the Introduction, but this report looks rather poor to me.

    Everything is lumped under the one name “drugs”. Cannabis is complained about in the same ways as crack and heroin even though the addiction and damage is quite different. In Section 2 of the Introduction, it looks like you’ve guessed a limit of .08 mg/l. That’s about as unscientific as you can get!

    I didn’t see any attempt to develop principles to guide the way we address the problems. Such as a principle that people may have a right to choose whether to harm themselves. The huge demand is not just because people are hooked, it’s also because people freely want the stuff. No principles about the rights of parents over their children or the diminuation of those rights with age. No concept that “protecting” a population by prohibition may actually weaken a population by preventing it from building resistance. No contact with a reality on how drugs may relieve suffering for, including prisoners. Or how some illegal drugs may actually help with mental issues. Nothing about the possible advantages of a soft barrier between legal and illegal, rather than a hard one.

    I’m told that quite a bit of the personal damage caused by some drugs comes from the impurities rather than the active ingredient, and a fair bit more comes simply from the fact that you have to associate with undesriable characters to get some dugs. Is there anything in the report along those lines?

    In short the Introduction looks like the report has been cobbled together by ignorant gossips wanting a bit of second-hand thrill. Sorry to be so rude, but maaybe this is also the kind of impression others have got, and maybe it’s why some people seem ton reject the ides of a Commission. I hope the body of the report is better! Maybe you should have provided an Executive Summary? Or maybe I simply missed it?

  • Thank you! All well said. Its refreshing to see there is hope in this . Fighting back in paragraphs compared to the mere sentance that hit us yesterday. Best put plans to move away from the uk on hold!

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