LibLink: Nick Clegg and Richard Branson: We have been losing the war on drugs for four decades. End it now.

Nick Clegg Glasgow 2014 by Liberal DemocratsIn a major keynote speech today, Nick Clegg will call for responsibility for drugs to be moved from the criminal justice system to the health care system. In that, he has the support of Richard Branson and the two men have written for the Guardian’s Comment is Free section. First of all, they show how the current system is both wasting money and failing:

 Since the “war” was declared by President Richard Nixon in 1971, we have spent over £1tn trying to eradicate drugs from our societies. Yet the criminal market continues to grow, driving unimaginable levels of profit for organised crime. We devote vast police, criminal justice and military resources to the problem, including the incarceration of people on a historically unprecedented scale.

In many parts of the world, drug violence has become endemic. As Mexico’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto, visits the UK, we should remember the estimated 100,000 people killed in Mexico alone since 2006. Yet tragically, the sum total of enforcement efforts against drug supply over the past 40 years has been zero. Efforts at reducing demand have been similarly fruitless. Here in the UK, a third of adults have taken illegal drugs and the gangs are doing a roaring trade. The problem simply isn’t going away.

While other countries around the world are rethinking their approach, Britain remains stubbornly, truculently wedded to the old way, with tragic human consequences:

And yet we desperately need better solutions in this country. One in six children aged 11 to 15 is still taking drugs; 2,000 people die each year in drug-related incidents; the use of unregulated “legal highs” is rampant.

At the same time, the police are stopping and searching half a million people a year for possession of drugs, prosecutions of users are close to record levels, and prison cells are still used for people whose only crime is the possession of a substance to which they are addicted. This costs a lot of money, which could be better spent on treatment and on redoubling our efforts to disrupt supply. And it wrecks the lives of 70,000 people a year who receive a criminal record for possession and then find themselves unable to get a job.

As an investment, the war on drugs has failed to deliver any returns. If it were a business, it would have been shut down a long time ago. This is not what success looks like.

They make the point that the Liberal Democrats have made the weather in ensuring that the Home Office carried out research which proved that the current approach was ineffectual and go on to outline examples of successful policies from other countries:

So what is the alternative? For this, we should look to Portugal, which removed criminal penalties for drug possession in 2001. Portugal’s reforms have not – as many predicted – led to an increase in drug use. Instead, they have allowed resources to be redirected towards the treatment system, with dramatic reductions in addiction, HIV infections and drug-related deaths. Drugs remain illegal and socially unacceptable, as they should be, but drug users are dealt with through the civil rather than the criminal law. Anyone who is arrested for drug possession is immediately assessed and sent for treatment or education. If they fail to engage, they have to pay a fine.

The Portuguese system works, and on an issue as important as this, where lives are at stake, governments cannot afford to ignore the evidence. We should set up pilots to test and develop a British version of the Portuguese model. The evidence suggests it will be cheaper, more effective at reducing harm and would allow the police to focus their attention where it should be, on the criminal gangs that supply the drugs.

You can read the whole article here. 

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  • Glenn Andrews 4th Mar '15 - 9:31am

    “Anyone who is arrested for drug possession is immediately assessed and sent for treatment or education. If they fail to engage, they have to pay a fine.”….. how can any liberal defend that? The problem with that policy is that it presupposes anyone caught with recreational narcotics that the state arbitrarily deems to be illegal either needs treatment or education, and unless we are talking about heroine they are unlikely to be addicted and may well be educated enough to make their own informed decision about their chosen vice. Forget Portugal, it’s Colorado we should be looking to.

  • Eddie Sammon 4th Mar '15 - 9:59am

    I don’t agree with this kind of politics where people come out with radical rhetoric and then recommend very modest proposals. Moderates are put off by the radical rhetoric and radicals are put off by the modest proposal.

    The first part talks about how the war on drugs has failed and how 100,000 people have been killed in Mexico since 2006 and its conclusion says we should carry on targeting drug gangs and not quite legalise possession.

    I actually like the proposal, but the rhetoric is a problem. For some it will be the other way around.

  • A Social Liberal 4th Mar '15 - 12:27pm

    Can someone please supply the definition of ‘recreational drugs’

  • Graham Martin-Royle 4th Mar '15 - 1:59pm

    Prohibition in the US didn’t work, all it did was make career criminals even richer. The “war on drugs” is doing the same. It’s a failed policy and needs ditching.

  • David Faggiani 4th Mar '15 - 4:44pm

    Yes, I leapt in joy at the rhetoric, and then deflated as I read the substance of the proposal. I agree with Eddie Sammon (whilst flipping the emphasis, as he anticipated!)

    Anyway, baby steps. I still support the relative boldness, the rethink, and the policy, as far as it goes. Manifesto differentiation, and a start to progress.

  • I, too, agree with the comments applauding the analysis and am disappointed with the suggested solution. I’m also after a definition of ‘drugs’ here, and ‘2,000 people die each year in drug-related incidents’, and ‘socially unacceptable’. ONS figures reveal the problem is far more complicated. Is cannabis ‘socially unacceptable’? Among what percentage of people? How many deaths are due to its use per year? Prescription drugs?

    The whole problem with the war on drugs is precisely predicated on the fact that politicians find themselves unable to talk rationally and logically without fear of suffering in the media, and then at the ballot box. So they cloud the issue. It’s worthless of Clegg to dispel the mist in his analysis, only to retreat back into it for his solution. Not all drugs are equal – the only step forward will be when politicians recognise this, and suggest appropriate solutions to each problem – whether legalisation, criminalisation, medication or otherwise.

  • A Social Liberal 4th Mar '15 - 7:06pm

    I’ll take it as a given that the term, ‘recreational drugs’, is defined as drugs which are designed to be taken for reasons other than medical.

    I have several concerns about legalising recreational drugs. Some of them are :-

    1) What does the state do when an addict has reached a state where their tolerance to their drug of choice makes it dangerous to take the amount necessary to give them what they crave. Do we :-
    – supply the amount regardless?
    – give them only the safe dose with the result that they will top up with street gear?

    2) Do we supply drugs which have the potential to turn the client into maniacs – angel dust, crystal meth and crack cocaine?

    3) What do we do when a client is coming down off his drug of choice but it is not yet safe to issue him with another dose. Do we :-
    – give it them knowing they could OD?
    – Deny them the drug knowing they will head off to the dealer?
    – lock them up so that they cannot obtain any drug until it is safe for them to get their next high?

    Indeed, there are fundamental questions which need answering.
    4) What is the end game in giving clients what they want? Is it :-
    – Simply to give the client what they want?
    – A holding strategy to stop the client taking ever greater amounts of drugs?
    – To force the client to wean themselves off the drug?

    5) Do we supply only addicts with their drug of choice, or give anyone the chance of using drugs?

    6) Will the drugs be supplied by the state, or will private companies be able to make a buck off the suffering of others? If the state, do we charge clients for the drugs they take?

    7) Do we supply clients with a safe place to take their drugs and stay whilst high or do we chuck them out into the cruel and dangerous world?

    8 ) Do we allow clients benefits to keep them whilst they follow their lifestyle?

    9) Do we supply clients with the wherewithal to take a cocktail of drugs in order to maintain their high for longer?

  • Generally we accept that chemicals with addictive properties or other attested harmful side effects or even not recognised as safe are controlled or not permitted. The glaringly obvious exception is tobacco. I do not think that there is much difficulty in making a strong Liberal case for consumer protection.

    The reasons for the lack of control on tobacco are entirely pragmatic. In essence it is a pragmatic approach that is advocated here. This is quite distinct to a proposal to deregulate control of harmful substances which it appears some would advocate.

    There certainly needs to be some measure of consistency: some who advocate deregulation also are adamantly opposes to products of genetically modified organisms, even where no additional risk can be rationally outlined. If Portugal can be shown to be a successful test bed for policy, it would be a wise course to act on that experience.

    Glenn Andrews: re “Anyone who is arrested for drug possession is immediately assessed and sent for treatment or education. If they fail to engage, they have to pay a fine.”….. how can any liberal defend that? Would you ask the same of our approach to those caught speeding on the roads? It is a similar idea.

  • This is not enough to win my vote back.

    If Nick had said lets legalise and tax soft drugs and prescribe the hard stuff to addicts that need it he’d have got my vote. Because that would be a meaningful change to the status quo. However, lets tell people who smoke weed because they happen to like it that they must be treated for their illness is highly authoritarian, just in a different way to the status quo.

    In most cases, people who take soft drugs (including alcohol) because they like it are not sick and do not need to have treatment forced on them. It reminds me a bit of the USSR when they used to put sane people in mental hospitals for disagreeing with the state.

    The younger generation are more likely to care about criminal records than my generation where so things like legal highs are becoming more common. Often those things are even more dangerous than illegal drugs, a common cannabis substitute for example, is probably way worse than the real thing.

    The lets just force them into treatment is just the typical Lib Dem, weak, cop-out, unprincipled risk adverse wishy washy spine less ness that I’d expect from a Tory lite status quo establishment party. It will please no one. The hangers and floggers will still hate the Lib Dems and the young and liberal minded will not return as a result of this non-sense.

    The general election is just over 2 months away and you guys look set to lose most of your seats, half way house rubbish like this won’t help.

  • Tony Rowan-Wicks 5th Mar '15 - 9:15am

    Is the best approach one which states that our party supports a wider consideration of drugs, their use, and the laws involving control and health treatment? This consideration would include moving the responsibility for drugs from the criminal justice system to the health care system – or a shared responsibility within those systems. The problems within the current proposal are that the issues have not been considered sufficiently, any changes are far-reaching, and public consensus takes time to build.

  • At last someone is talking about legalising drugs. The policies suggested may not be as draconian as some would wish, but they are an effort to change outmoded views and ways of tackling the problem.The task is huge, because two immense and powerful vested interests cling to the status quo that gives them power and huge cash benefits: the Police and the Legal System.
    For the entire police force, the “drugs war” is a constant source of overtime, a cash cow which will go on paying all the while the laws stay as they are . As long as police imprison a fair number of drugs barons every year, society feels they are “doing their job “- never mind the fact that these street vermin are easily replaced with henchmen overnight, so lucrative and well-organised is the drugs trade.
    Similarly, our top barristers are hardly going to argue for the legalisation of a trade that gives them fat retainers -both as defence and prosecution lawyers – every time a top drugs dealer lands in court.
    So, two bastions of society have to be radically changed in their basic attitudes before logical reforms can take place. At any rate, let’s begin somewhere.

  • Philip Thomas 8th Mar '15 - 2:07pm

    @A Social Liberal

    Erm, “legalising recreational drugs” and “giving free supplies of recreational drugs to anyone who asks for them” are not only not the same policy, they aren’t even in the same ball park. Cigarettes are legal but we don’t supply addicts with free cigarettes!

  • Michael Smart 17th Mar '15 - 8:20am

    Thank you Lib Dems for leading the push for these ridiculous drug laws to be changed. It is the right of a human being to choose whether they wish to use a drug in the same way it is their right to choose whether to drink an alcoholic drink and to use pain killers. Can you imagine if someone came up to you and said that you were not allowed to drink that alcoholic drink? Im sure I know what your response to them would be.
    Use police officers time better, they should be out catching the bigger criminals, not someone who is carrying a small amount of drugs for personal use.

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