Nick Clegg and Colombian leader to build pressure for drugs reform

Nick Clegg might not be having much luck with the Conservatives on drugs reform, but he’s trying to build an international consensus. He’s agreed a joint approach with Colombian leader Juan Manuel Santos according to the Observer:

Nick Clegg wants the UK to take a lead role in forging an alliance between European and Latin American countries aiming to reform global drugs laws focused on prohibition.

The deputy prime minister believes that the UN special session on drugs in 2016 offers a “unique opportunity” to push for alternatives to the current system. “We need to seize it,” Clegg said. “The war on drugs has failed and there are now a large number of states who agree on the need for change.”

Clegg was speaking after meeting Colombia’s president, Juan Manuel Santos, for talks about his country’s peace negotiations with the Farc guerrillas and what both see as an emerging international consensus for reform of international drugs policy.

The talks between Santos and Clegg will be seen as a significant strengthening of the emerging liberal alliance on drugs reform, a move heavily resisted by the Lib Dems’ coalition partners.

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  • A positive development, however there is still some way to go. In particular, liberal advocates of drug law reform need to grab the bull by the horns and argue that recreational drug use is simply a matter of individual choice (within the bounds of the law, of course), rather than adopting treat the problem rather than punish approach, which is a half-way house that by its very nature concedes ground to the opposition argument that the overwhelming majority of drug use is problematic–when in fact the reverse is true. Indeed, if you showed the courage of your convictions on this one, you might be pleasantly surprised at how many people agree with you…

  • The global war on illegal drugs has been an unmitigated disaster. More user’s lives have been ruined by the criminal justice system than by the drugs themselves, criminal gangs have gotten rich and powerful, governments have been deprived of tax revenue… You know the arguments…

    I would vote for almost any politician who seriously wants to reform this mess, I don’t pretend to know the solution but I believe this can be fixed if only leaders would agree to follow scientific evidence and and challenge ignorance and hysterical headlines. Drugs policy needs be based on evidence and made with logic and reason rather than out of fear of the gutter press. Following gut reactions, ignoring evidence and pandering to ignorance and hysteria usually produces bad results fun enough…

    But I won’t vote for the Lib Dems because I don’t believe that they’re not just playing politics with drugs again. In the UK, all politicians use drugs (especially cannabis) as a way to score points and get media attention whenever it suits them. These latest stunts could be driven by focus groups talking about Oregon or Alaska etc…

    Labour changed cannabis to a class C drug after the LCA stood in about 13 seats getting around 600 votes per seat. But they made class C drugs arrestable and also made the sentence for dealing class C drugs the same as a sentence for dealing class B drugs so there was very little real change . Then David Cameron who favoured class C when he was on the back benches said it should be class B and told Gordon Brown to stop dithering and reclassify it to a B. It was all just a big point scoring game driven by focus groups wasn’t it? No real changes even happened.

    The Lib Dems (or at least some of their prominent MPs) had a campaign calling for the Labour Government to get tough and criminalise ‘headshops’ fairly recently. I don’t think Labour did outlaw headshops and I believe the Lib Dems knew full well that doing so would have only made a bad situation slightly worse and put a few more people on the dole and changed nothing in reality. But I think they called for it for headlines.

    Does anyone know if the Lib Dems won their campaign to outlaw headshops and persuaded Labour to get tough?

    Anyway, I don’t believe a word of what Clegg is saying, I’ve seem Lib Dems like all other mainstream parties play politics with these issues again and again.

  • Daniel Henry 11th Nov '14 - 12:52am

    Hi Mr Wallace

    I wouldn’t say that the Lib Dems have the perfect record on drugs, but are doing more than you give them credit for.

    The issue was debated at conference and has been set as offiical policy by the grassroots membership back in 2011. (showing that it’s not a short term tactical thing) Julian Huppert has always provided a pro-reform voice on the Select Committee and Nick Clegg was recently the first ever government minister to call for a new approach.

    While action has been limited by the Conservatives (we didn’t get the Royal Commission we asked for) our ministers have at least been able to ensure that the evidence is looked at impartially, and ensured that the report was published (despite Conservative attempts to suppress it) This evidence will further the debate, although Labour and the Tories will still find excuses not to act.

    Clegg’s speeches aren’t a sudden new position taken now the next election is in sight – Lib Dems have actually been doing work within government towards this end for a good few years now. I’d like to think actions speak louder than words here.

    When the law on drugs finally changes (and I think the momentum is slowly building in that direction) it will a similar situation to gay marriage when popular opinion has changed to the point where the major parties no longer dare oppose it. In the meantime, out of the three main parties, the Lib Dems are doing the most to push us towards that reform.

    Finally, Nick’s sometimes been accused of being insincere on certain issues, but you can tell which issues he really believes in because he sets his stall out without being prompted by the party or the electorate. Europe is one, drug reform is another.

    As said before, I wouldn’t say the Lib Dems are perfect on this. In opposition, individual MPs may have made an issue out of being “tough” and even now Nick’s announced it as official policy, some of our MPs will still try to avoid admitting to wanting to “decriminalise” on television (I’m looking at you Mr Hughes and Mrs Kramer!) … but the policy and the push for it is genuine.

  • David Faggiani 11th Nov '14 - 10:04am

    I am very supportive of reformist/towards-legalisation drug policy… let’s see what’s in the manifesto!

  • @Daniel Henry

    This year the Lib Dem/Conservative government just banned Khat. Even the WHO says Khat has very few risks. The majority of men in countries like Yemen use Khat, in the UK Khat use is mainly from the Somali community which might be why banning it was considered a vote winner and why they did it? How did the Lib Dem MPs vote on this?

  • Glenn Andrews 11th Nov '14 - 12:03pm

    Mr Wallace, might I refer you to the opinion piece of 1st April 2014 on this website entitled ‘ Libdems only party to vote against Khat ban’ – I would provide a link but I’m not that techno-savvy.

  • Daniel Henry 11th Nov '14 - 1:27pm

    Here it is, and it’s not even an April fool!

    It’s referring to the select committee vote.

  • Mr Wallace,

    The Lib Dems are the only viable party to support your position, you say you’d vote for any party that would reform yet you also say you won’t vote Lib Dem. Threatening not to vote is intending not to have any say in the matters you claim are important to you.

    The fleeting campaign of a single MP against a headshop 6 years ago is a very poor reason not to support a party that otherwise upholds your views. That MP later changed his mind and joined CLEAR, and so has probably done more to further your personal cause than you have. Don’t get me wrong, I fully intend to not vote Lib Dem at the next election, for very different reasons, but the reasons you’ve given for not supporting the party are nonsensical and don’t bear further scrutiny. If I were you I’d join and start lobbying, I think you’d be surprised how much support your view holds; it’s clear you’re poorly informed on the current thinking on this issue and the party could help with that.

  • Eddie Sammon 11th Nov '14 - 1:48pm

    Are payday loans worse than drugs? Sack that ridiculous FCA chief now and reverse the decision.

  • @Daniel Henry “When the law on drugs finally changes (and I think the momentum is slowly building in that direction) it will a similar situation to gay marriage when popular opinion has changed to the point where the major parties no longer dare oppose it. In the meantime, out of the three main parties, the Lib Dems are doing the most to push us towards that reform.”

    Whilst I see some parallels between gay rights and drug law reform it is not true that the laws on homosexuality changed when public opinion did. The changing of laws and a few politicians actually being leaders changed our laws on homosexuality, then public opinion changed.

    Male homosexual acts were first decriminalised in the 1960’s because the Labour government accepted a report that said sexual orientation was not a conscious choice individuals made and that trying to change someone’s sexuality could be dangerous. But even after then gays were hardly treated equally. Female homosexuality was never illegal as far as I know, probably because the public weren’t so prejudiced towards two women as they were towards two men, Anyway, my point is the law was based on ignorance, prejudice and hysteria and MPs deciding to follow scientific advice is what first changed the law.

    Then there was the whole Section 28 in Scotland which I remember well. I remember a Scottish multi-millionaire decided to send pretend ballot papers to everyone on the electoral register in Scotland asking if they thought Section 28 should be repealed or not. Brian Souter’s ‘ballot’ got a higher turnout that the recently held European Elections did and 85% vote no to the repeal of Section 28 – it was more like a massive opinion poll than a real vote though but it reflected how I believe people felt at the time.

    Civil partnerships faced serious opposition too. Tony Blair actually acted like a principled leader then and fought it head on but the headlines in the gutter press were pretty hysterical.

    But in the end, the law was changed, the sky didn’t fall in, civil partnerships became the new status quo. Those who wanted to change the law back and take away gay people’s rights were then in the position of having to justify their positions which most of them couldn’t so they changed their minds.

    There has been no such leadership on drugs. And those who claim that the laws against gays changed as a result of public opinion changing first seem to be justifying politicians being cowards on drugs because the public are not quite their yet.

    @ChrisB. I don’t believe that the Lib Dems are sincere on this issue, I’m not saying they are lying, just that I have no way of knowing if they are lying because politicians lie so frequently. Nick Clegg could have every single candidate sign a pledge promise to vote for a royal commission on drugs and after what he did with tuition fees I still wouldn’t know if he was lying or not.

    I had to look up CLEAR and to find out that an MP could go from campaigning to ban headshops to joining a group like that in six years just confirms my belief that they have no principles and are just playing games. The Tories are also guilty of such hypocracy on gay rights. I’ve no time for any of them really. As for ‘viable party’ just wait… The Greens might be more viable in six months …

    Voting for someone is an endorsement, I just can’t do it I’m afraid.

  • Daniel Henry 11th Nov '14 - 11:34pm

    You baffle me Mr Wallace.

    I understand people to criticising the Lib Dems over tuition fees, because that’s an area where they let voters down.

    With equal marriage, while the final step was taken in line with popular opinion you’re right that leading up to that took groundwork that wasn’t necessarily in line with public opinion, that gradually shaped it. The Lib Dems have been doing that work in government around drug policy:
    Julian has been arguing for reform from within the select committee. Norman successfully saw the publication of a report that provided official government evidence in favour of reform and Nick became the first government minister to ever publically endorse reform.

    Has there been as much progress as we’d like?
    Unfortunately the Lib Dems have been the smaller part of the coalition, and attempts to even have a royal commission to look into the issue have been blocked. But progress of sorts has been made and is slowly leading towards that tipping point.

    Caroline Lucas has also been good on drug reform, so I could understand you supporting the Greens, but your criticisms of the Lib Dems are frustrating because they [i]have[/i] been pushing strongly for reform and you just seem to refuse to believe it.

  • >to find out that an MP could go from campaigning to ban
    >headshops to joining a group like that in six years just confirms
    >my belief that they have no principles and are just playing games.

    I suspect he changed his mind based on evidence and to me this is the sign of a rational human being. Aren’t you pleased he stopped campaigning against headshops and went for a pro-reform agenda? He’s basically admitting you’re right; would you rather he continued with his anti-drugs views?

    >The Greens might be more viable in six months …

    If you want political games read the Green manifesto – every section starts out with something solid that everyone can agree with, then adds enough caveats to make it ridiculous. If they ever get more than a handful of MP’s we’ll see how their manifesto fares in reality; with enough time and power perhaps they’ll have their own “tuition fees” moment one day.

    >Voting for someone is an endorsement, I just can’t do it I’m afraid.

    Voting for someone is choosing the best person to return to Parliament to represent your views. If there are MP’s in Parliament saying what you’re saying, then surely they’re doing what you want? It doesn’t matter what you believe or trust in, a politician can be measured in deeds – if they don’t walk the walk you’ve got every right to complain, but I still don’t think you’ve presented a very good argument for this being the case with the Lib Dems on this issue.

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