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

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 was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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  • Eddie Sammon 9th Feb '14 - 8:39am

    I think a more balanced message, published in a more balanced outlet, would have been better. But he does sound authentic.

  • Jenny Barnes 9th Feb '14 - 9:24am

    His main point seems to be “economic growth and jobs” . I didn’t see any commitment to legalisation/ decriminalisation. Disappointing. Prohibition doesn’t work, and creates crime. See Al Capone and alcohol. I know we only pretend to do evidence based policy, but taking 80 years to get the point seems a bit slow.

  • Eddie Sammon 9th Feb '14 - 9:32am

    Drugs take away other people’s freedom too. Alcohol increases assaults, domestic violence, road traffic accidents and creates dependency. If we are to use the John Stuart Mill principle of freedom unless it causes harm to others then the harder drugs simply fail this test. This is why a soft on drugs message is not the right or liberal thing to do. Saying if you are anti-drugs then you should be pro softness is marketing nonsense.

    I’m not advocating prohibiting alcohol, but I do have a problem with the stronger drinks and definitely heroin and crack cocaine.

  • Julian Critchley 9th Feb '14 - 10:12am


    I disagree. The problem is the language : “soft on drugs”, “tough on drugs”. It comes with value judgements.

    We need to leave that sort of emotive and unhelpful language in the hypocritical tabloids. What we should be talking about is simply which approach minimizes harm. We cannot, ever, eliminate drugs. People choose to use them, and no society has ever managed to eradicate use. At the moment, we have a system in which the harm caused by drugs is exacerbated by their illegality. You might not ever be able to remove the physical harm to the individual of drug-taking, whether legal or illegal, but you can remove the societal harm (and yes, some personal harm), by regulating drugs as a controlled market, rather than a wild west free-for-all for violent criminals, as we have today.

  • Eddie Sammon 9th Feb '14 - 10:19am

    Julian, Andrew Marr got it right this morning when he said “Nick wants drugs reform, which means legalisation but politicians can’t bring themselves to say it”.

    You don’t have to say soft or tough, but at least make it clear what reform actually means.

    I don’t think it is true that most of the harm done by drugs is caused by illegalisation. If you go out to a town-centre on a Saturday night there’s lots of violence and it fills up A and E.

    To give one personal example: my uncle was killed by a drunk person who punched him on a night out. To say that the harm is caused by illegalisation is not true and Nick hiding his intentions with the word “reform” just makes me angry.

    I’d be in favour of legalising cannabis, but I couldn’t vote for a negative liberty party that is just going to say “everyone’s free to harm others”. The message needs to be balanced.

  • Politicians of all parties need to approach this as a public healh issue.
    They need to get away from the “WAR on drugs” nonsense.
    The ministerial lead should be with the Health Department, not the Home Office.
    We need less posturing by “TOUGH” Home Secretaries and chauffeur driven police chiefs dressed up in more uniform than a Paraguayan dictator.

    So to an extent I agree with Clegg.
    HOWEVER, think about smoking in cars with children when you read the quote from Clegg —““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,”

    Can someone explain to me why Clegg can ignore the millions of deaths every year from smoking but is excited by 2,000 deaths from more glamorous drugs?

  • Eddie Sammon 9th Feb '14 - 10:47am

    Anyone interested in preventative care in mental and physical health can’t be pro drugs. This is political dynamite. It’s no good showing Guardianistas your social left policies with one hand and then your anti public sector and pro bedroom tax policies on the other. In the article he doesn’t even deny that he wants all drugs legalised.

    Nick is going to start losing his centrist voters as well as his left and right leaning ones. We’ll be left like the FDP – out of office.

  • Eddie Sammon 9th Feb '14 - 11:02am

    The left want an unfair policy of “anti drug sellers, pro drug users”. Nick wants to be “pro drug sellers and pro drug users”. The only people it will appeal to is the cocaine taking bankers reading the Financial Times.

  • Eddie Sammon 9th Feb ’14 – 9:32am
    “If we are to use the John Stuart Mill principle of freedom unless it causes harm to others then the harder drugs simply fail this test. ”

    Eddie, you may want to re-read Mill, and consider the damage done to society by alcohol and tobacco.
    Can you explain to me why the much smaller incidence of harm resulting from heroin and cocaine requires the sort of approach that you are suggesting?
    Or are your comments triggered by moral outrage rather than by the facts?

  • Eddie Sammon 9th Feb '14 - 11:14am

    Well John, I do consider the harmful effects that alcohol and tobacco do to society, which is why I don’t take any of them.

    I see your point about alcohol and tobacco being used on a much wider basis and I am in favour of being tough on them (certainly tougher on spirits as I mentioned above). I just think sometimes it is possible to be too tough, such as plain packaging of cigarettes and clamping down on fizzy drinks.

  • Eddie Sammon 9th Feb '14 - 11:28am

    To answer your question specifically: I think keeping heroin and crack cocaine use as illegal is a deterrent to using them. The argument that they don’t harm anybody else is not true, which I am sure you will agree with.

    We could say, drug use is fine as long as you don’t hurt anybody, but locking someone up is not much of a consolation to someone who has already been hurt by it.

    I don’t like resorting to moral outrage, it certainly wasn’t my intention, it was just frustration.

  • Julian Critchley 9th Feb '14 - 11:40am


    You wrote

    “I don’t think it is true that most of the harm done by drugs is caused by illegalisation. If you go out to a town-centre on a Saturday night there’s lots of violence and it fills up A and E.

    To give one personal example: my uncle was killed by a drunk person who punched him on a night out. To say that the harm is caused by illegalisation is not true and Nick hiding his intentions with the word “reform” just makes me angry. ”

    I’m sorry for your loss, Eddie, and of course I’m aware that people do things while under the influence of drugs and alcohol, which cause harm.

    However, you have to accept that logically, this is a completely different issue than the one concerning whether those drugs are legal. Effectively, your argument goes :

    1) People using drugs can cause harm

    2) Therefore drugs should be illegal.

    There are significant logical problems with both these points.

    Firstly, people using drugs can cause harm. But most harm through traffic accidents, domestic violence, robbery etc, is not caused by drug use. And most drug use does not result in violence/harm to others. The law should address the crime. If I cause harm to someone through my bad driving, then I should be prosecuted whether or not I have used drugs. If I have used drugs before driving, I should be prosecuted for negligence, as I should if I was texting on a motorway, or driving without headlights at night. We do not make alcohol or mobile phones illegal because some people choose to use them in irresponsible ways which might cause harm. Why do we treat drugs differently ? There is no logical reason.

    Secondly, your second point only holds if there was any evidence that drug use prevalence is significantly impacted by illegality. Yet there is no such evidence. This is the absolute crux of it. There is no evidence at all that prohibition has significantly reduced or restrained use. There is no evidence at all that ending prohibition will see a significant increase in use (or in any associated harm). Whereas there is a lot of evidence that the prohibition of drugs has created enormous harm as a result of the criminal activity which is based around the production, transport and sale of illegal drugs. The scale of this harm, and the corruption it engenders, is truly vast, and that’s before we even take into account the harm done to individuals prosecuted for involvement in this black market.

    Whether drugs are legal or illegal cannot and does not have any impact on the harm they may or may not cause to individuals in terms of their physical impact. But whether drugs are legal or illegal can and does have a significant impact on the harm caused to our society by the criminal consequences of their prohibition.

    Take the emotion out, and this is simple logic. Your argument only works if you believe that making drugs illegal is resulting in less harm being caused than if they were legal. Well we know that the illegality causes enormous harm. So where are the gains which make this harm worthwhile ? What do we, as a society, or as individuals, gain from making this activity illegal ?

  • Daniel Henry 9th Feb '14 - 11:40am

    Eddie, you seem to be running with the same assumption of the prohibitionist crowd that if drugs are harmful then the only way to reduce harm is to make them illegal.

    The problem is, that assumption is hugely wrong and people need to wake up to that.
    Making them illegal increases the harm.

    Yes, heroin ruines lives and if I had the omnipotent powers to change the laws of physics to make its existence an impossibility then I’d do so. But I can’t.

    If instead I try to stop people taking it by making it illegal, they still largely manage to get hold of it, except rather than through regulated means, through gangs who often run their trade with violence, and often cut their products making them more dangerous.

    It means addicts are made to feel like criminals rather than people will illness, and receive punishments rather than the medical help they need. Medical organisations around the world are calling for legalisation/decriminalisation as criminalising users does them more harm than good.

  • Daniel Henry 9th Feb '14 - 11:40am

    Legalising heroin is quite extreme and I don’t expect Nick to go that far, but at the least we need to reduce harm by allowing for pure and regulated markets for weed and club drugs.

  • hitchadmirer 9th Feb '14 - 11:42am

    Speaking as someone who’s had a car stolen and broken into 6 times, a house next-door turned into a crack den (with a GBH and suicide to boot) and who lives in a town with a clear crime & drugs correlation – my life would be made much more pleasant if they could get it for free and do it at home – as “hard” as they like. Lets got utilitarian on this one if you insist on getting philosophical – the greatest good for the most people would be served by legalisation. The war is lost and will never be won.

  • Eddie Sammon 9th Feb '14 - 11:55am

    Julian, you have made a good argument. You might have won me over on legalising the use. I believe in balance and moderation, which made me get worried about Nick writing to the Guardian and not spelling out exactly what he means by reform. If Nick is genuinely a centrist then I don’t know what he is doing writing to the Guardian with a left wing pitch. It is inconsistent.

    Daniel, is the prohibitionist crowd is always wrong then should we make assault rifles legal? I think this is a difficult issue and we always need to maintain an ability to look at both sides of the coin. I agree with legalising weed. Like I said, I might be won over on legalising the use after Julian’s really good argument, but being totally anti-probationary would lead to things such as legalising AK47’s and getting rid of speed limits. They have their arguments, but they are not centrist or what Nick is supposed to stand for.

  • Eddie Sammon 9th Feb '14 - 12:23pm

    I’m rebelling. There is plenty of evidence prohibition decreases use. Look at guns in our country compared to the US. anti-prohibition extremism leads to pro guns.

  • Daniel Henry 9th Feb '14 - 12:35pm

    Decreases use, but doesn’t increase harm.

    If we legalised/decriminalised, we’d have a bit more use but a lot less harm.
    Most of the harm is a result of illegalisation, e.g. impure products and the stigma preventing people from getting help.

    Also, criminalising young people for taking substances can hurt them far more than the substances themselves!

  • Frank Booth 9th Feb '14 - 12:41pm

    Drugs is an issue I really don’t know the answer to. But to those suggesting that alcohol and tobacco do more harm than cocaine or heroin……………

    What do you things would be like if most of the adult population were ‘moderate’ heroin users? You have to judge drugs on an individual basis. I understand the desire to be more compassionate towards drug users but their actions ARE harmful towards others. As a small point I believe a good deal of noise pollution is drug related. A small point but it is part of the anti-social behaviour problem.

  • Yet another reason why I love Nick. The “war on drugs” has been a huge failure, time to try a new approach.

  • Julian Critchley 9th Feb '14 - 1:33pm


    There is a bit of a difference between guns and drugs. Guns are weapons designed specifically to allow the user to kill other people. Drugs are chemical substances designed to be used by the user on themselves. If the primary use of drugs in this country was for people to wander around stabbing strangers with a syringe, then you might have a point. But the comparison doesn’t really work.

    The issue with coverage is an interesting one. You might not be surprised to learn that there is a huge overlap between people who smoke, and people who use drugs. The proportion of drug users who do not smoke cigarettes is very, very small. That suggests that there is something of a cap on potential drug use. Someone who is health-aware enough, or risk-averse enough, to not smoke, is very unlikely to imbibe drugs of any sort. And not all those who smoke are willing to take drugs either. ASH record that the prevalence of smoking in the UK is flatlining at about 20% of the population. As a consequence, I think it would be astonishing if fully legalised drug use were to rise above that. At present, drug use in the last year (the best measure of actual users, as opposed to one-time experimenters) is currently at roughly 9% of the population. The overwhelming majority of these are cannabis users, with cocaine and ecstasy coming a distant second/third.

    I would also suggest that these figures back up my earlier point about how prohibition has no impact on prevalence of use. Pretty much anyone who wishes to obtain illegal drugs can do so, easily. Pretty much everyone who wants to, already has, or does, use illegal drugs. There simply isn’t a large population of would-be regular drug users out there, gasping for substances, but deterred by their illegality. So prohibition just isn’t having any impact on reducing harm through reducing prevalence. It is, however, causing harm through the creation and maintenance of the criminal market.

    The numbers are there. And those who care to look can see them. Prohibition of drugs has been as disastrous as prohibition of alcohol was in the USA, and for exactly the same reasons.

  • Eddie Sammon 9th Feb '14 - 1:49pm

    Julian, I wrote in a previous comment (that has gone into moderation), that you nearly changed my mind on drugs legalisation with your persuasive argument.

    I would say that guns are designed for self-defence, but can also be misused, so I don’t see a big difference between the two.

    My point is, what is the ethical belief behind this? What is it a belief in? Is Nick a centrist/moderate or an economic liberal? The answer has big repercussions and I don’t think it is clear.

  • Frank Booth 9th Feb ’14 – 12:41pm
    Drugs is an issue I really don’t know the answer to. But to those suggesting that alcohol and tobacco do more harm than cocaine or heroin……………

    Frank, would you agree that it is best to consider an answer on the basis of fact?
    If you do agree to an evidence based approach to policy formulation – would you agree that the best available expert medical advice should be considered?
    If you say yes to these two questions then you need to revise your knee-jerk reaction to words cocaine and heroin. You also need to check out the reality of the evidence on the harm done by tobacco and alcohol.

    Heed the expert medical advice not the headlines in The Daily Mail.

  • Eddie Sammon 9th Feb ’14 – 12:23pm
    I’m rebelling. There is plenty of evidence prohibition decreases use. Look at guns in our country compared to the US. anti-prohibition extremism leads to pro guns.

    Prohibition certainly has an impact. Gardners in this country used to put all sorts of appalling chemicals into the soil on the mistaken belief that this would be good for their roses and kill pests. Many of those weed killers , slug killers and greenfly poisons have now been banned by law. The world is a better place as a result. However, not many gardners have been arrested or criminialised in the process.

    The debate on illegal drugs should be based on facts. The evidence abounds but is usually ignored by politicians who try to sound macho. For fifty years politicians in the UK have tired to sound TOUGH on drugs. It has been a waste of ifty years. Most people fail to address the scale of the risk from tobacco smoke whilst hugely exaggerating the actual or even the potential risk from abuse of cocaine. That has been the expert advice given to governments for decades. Do you not think it odd that the debate has never been about the facts?

  • Some facts on cocaine supplied by of all people The Daily Mail —-( the facts, not the cocaine )

    Cocaine deaths up 50% in a year. (this is The Mail headline)
    The number of people killed by cocaine abuse has risen by nearly 50 per cent in a year.
    There were 139 deaths from overdoses in 2002, compared with 96 the year before and just 12 in 1993, the Office of National Statistics said.

    Now in my view these deaths are neither more nor less important than the hundreds of thousands of people who die from smoking every year.
    If you were influencing government policy I think you might conclude that the hundreds of thousands of deaths from smoking should be a higher priority.

  • Graham Martin-Royle 9th Feb '14 - 2:58pm

    Prohibition in the US didn’t work, it just made the criminals richer. The war on drugs is the same, it’s not working and all it does it make criminals richer. It’s time for a better approach.

  • Stuart Mitchell 9th Feb '14 - 3:17pm

    Of course the blue half of the government will tell you that current drugs policy IS working :-

    So if we really want to be led by evidence, we would only adopt a more liberal approach if there was evidence that it would work even better. Is there such evidence? I’m no expert and I don’t have the inclination to research it much, but this article about the (limited) decriminalisation in Portugal seems to suggest that what they’re doing there isn’t working any better than what we’re doing here :-

    (Though the headline claims “this is working”, it turns out that “working” means only that “drug consumption has not increased severely”.)

    Nick Clegg’s article is completely vague – I have no idea exactly what he really wants to happen. How, for instance, are we going to take power away from the South American drug lords – put them out of business by producing drugs ourselves, cheaper?

  • I’ve always thought that a significant component of the harm to the taker derives from the fact that you can never be certain what you’re taking (much cannabis excluded). What is actually in the dose? Is it the advertised substance at all? How pure? How concentrated? Is it cut with non-inert material to make the drug go further? At “our” end, a regulated market could reduce this harm significantly. A clubber who knows that what they have is a specified dose of ecstasy in a properly produced tablet won’t take a different substance which is stronger but slower-acting, decide it’s a weak batch, take another and die.

    But how do you achieve such a market? You still need the raw materials. Will we see coca plantations on the warm slopes of Hereford or will we have to import it from the current producers? The latter would require relatively legitimate businesses to pay a good price and provide protection for the entire supply chain. The gangs aren’t going to cease to exist, and they won’t give up their golden egg layers without a fight, so you might end up with a different kind of war.

  • Eddie Sammon 9th Feb '14 - 4:15pm

    John, I’m not sure exactly what you are suggesting about the debate not being conducted with facts. Tobacco companies influence people for sure, but there is only so much we can do.

    Julian, my replies to you from earlier have come through now.

    All others, I’m not intolerant or close minded to those who disagree on this issue, there was just some things I didn’t like about the article, especially the “anti drugs, pro reform” tagline. This just serves to wind up anti-drugs people, rather than win them over.

  • Julian Critchley 9th Feb '14 - 4:41pm

    @Stuart Mitchell

    I think the Portugal issue is often used as a straw man by those implacably opposed to any kind of change to prohibition. This is because the Portugese have decriminalized some drugs, but they are often used by prohibitionists as an example of a society which has legalised all drugs (which they haven’t). I personally take the view that decriminalization is only a very small step to reducing harm. It will reduce harm to users because they are less likely to suffer legal consequences of their use, and are more likely to seek professional assistance/advice, and it will reduce some harm to society by freeing up police resources. However, it does not necessarily improve the quality control of drugs being used, and crucially it does not remove the control of the trade from violent criminals.

    It is this criminal element which I think is the most pressing problem for us. It is behind so much of our crime, and the profits from drugs funds all sorts of other deeply unpleasant activities. I personally want a cannabis user to be able to buy their cannabis from the same places as a tobacco user. I don’t like cigarette companies, and I don’t like smoking, but I prefer the fact that they pay at least some taxes, they don’t kill people to maintain control of markets, and they are susceptible to the law on issues such as age restrictions, marketing, and quality control. I think Big Pharma is a dodgy group of companies too, but I would much rather they were controlling the production and distribution of cocaine, ecstasy and heroin, than a gangster with an itchy trigger finger and a sideline in trafficked Romanian teenagers.

    I’ve met heroin users (I may have to admit an interest here – do a google search on my name and “drugs” if you are wondering), but I haven’t met one who wouldn’t rather obtain controlled heroin on prescription from a doctor – with access to information, assistance and counselling – than steal a TV to sell in order to buy it from Dodgy Nick down the pub, who swears this lot isn’t as doctored with talcum powder as the last lot.


    Look, I agree that there’d be some deeply unpleasant stuff involved in legalisation. Almost certainly some of the tobacco companies would initially recruit known gangsters to legitimize the supply networks, and we’d end up having some top drugs bosses being able to be open about the origins of their wealth, rather than secretive as now. But again, distaste for the people involved shouldn’t blind us to the reality. Having ex-gangsters competing on price, marketing and quality, to sell to customers who have full access to health information and support, all being taxed appropriately, is an infinitely better option than having gangsters compete with violence and intimidation to sell dodgy stuff to customers who are too scared of the consequences of possession to seek assistance, with all profits feeding untaxed back into criminal pursuits.

    I don’t want to get too panglossian, but if one wanted to look further afield, the benefits to producer countries such as Afghanistan and Bolivia of being able to have their biggest cash crops legalized and sold, would also be pretty substantial.

    To be clear, I dislike drugs. I don’t smoke, I rarely drink, and I have never taken an illegal drug. I’d be appalled if my kids did. But I see a lot of upside to legalisation (or at least the elimination of the current vast downside), and very little evidence of any real downside in terms of societal harm. Half a century of failure is a long time. We should really try something else.

  • @Julian
    I’m basically for decriminalisation, and maybe selective legalisation. We’ve made a complete hash of Afghanisatan (apart from a handful of saffron farmers!) so we’d end up dealing with more or less house-trained Taliban and northern warlords. South America would be harder because the gangs there exist only for their business.

  • The hypocrisy on drugs is what I find difficult stomach. As a younger man I was arrestedfor cannabis possession. It was a few joints worth from a friend of a friend who grew their own. I have never been a regular smoker and border on tee-total in relation to alcohol. I usedto be an occassional canabis smoker. When applying for jobs I have to declare my caution. I stopped smoking cannabis when I had a family – the stakes are now too severe were I to be caught. Why am I penalised? I didn’t cause problems for the third world. I have colleagues and friends who’s health is affected by smoking and, in my view , who’s work is affected through drinking but I’m the one who has the embarrassment (at best) and rejection (at worst)in relation to applying for jobs, suffer social stigma and could lose my job and consequently home were i to return to smoking a few joints. How is that morally right? Its too easy to say ‘well the police don’t care’ because actually I found to my own cost that they can and do. Hypocrisy.

  • Mick Taylor 9th Feb '14 - 7:41pm

    Legalise, standardise and tax. Simples

  • Julian Critchley 9th Feb ’14 – 4:41pm
    I don’t like cigarette companies, and I don’t like smoking,

    Julian, I see the point you are making here and am not totally against it. But the Tobacco companies have too long a record of illegality, borderline criminal activities etc to be portrayed as benevolent. Various parliamentary select committees have found against the supposedly “respectable” tobacco companies for avoiding taxes, duty. This leaves aside the long history of tobacco companies deliberately denying scientific and medical evidence so as to be able to continue to market their product

  • Julian Critchley 9th Feb '14 - 9:41pm

    @John Tilley

    I agree wholeheartedly that tobacco companies are not exactly model benevolent capitalists. I had a friend who worked for ASH, and some of the tricks he discovered them using were downright criminal.

    I’ve never argued that the choice we have is between heaven and hell. Really it’s a choice between a poor situation and a dreadful one. But I would choose tobacco companies, with all their dodgy dealings, over the violent criminals and psychopathic drugs cartels that we currently have.

  • After 8 years in inner city Birmingham i know that the only way to defeat drugs is to legalise, regulate, tax and educate. Until the profit goes out of them the war on drugs will continue to result in decades of defeat for the prohibitionists, even allowing for all of the powers of the state thtat they have to use. And no, i don’t use drugs, nor care to use them.

  • Oil rig workers needs to have tests for alcohol and drugs. What about people using dangerous equipment such as cars or planes ?
    Do we need to know how drugs impact on peoples judgement , their dosage and interaction? What about impact of drugs on teenagers ?The human brain is not fully formed until about 20years old.

  • Eddie

    It sounds like you have suffered a tragedy.

    I think we need to be careful not to approach it like those BBC stories about raising the motorway speed limit. When the BBC discuss raising the Motorway speed limit to 80 they find a mother who’s child was killed by a driver speeding in a 20 mph limit area, tragin stories but not taking an impartial look at the arguments.

    Drugs and alcohol do have negative consequences in society, but that does not mean that prohibition is the answer. We have to look at approaches that minimise harm and maximise freedom. I don’t think anyone can say that a system where drug addicts are kept relying on criminals who are likely to push them towards other forms of crime is effective. Or where contamination puts users at high risks.

    A system can surely be designed where it is legally possible to obtain drugs but the effects are more effectively minimised.

    I don’t think you can use gun comparison between the US and the UK. Figures were different before laws differed so extremely.

  • Eddie Sammon 10th Feb '14 - 1:01am

    Hi Psi,

    I agree on not using personal examples, I just wanted to balance up the debate about the harm being done mainly by illegalisation.

    I definitely agree with legalising weed and possible cocaine too, but I think things like heroin and crack are a different ball game and I think if we get rid of prohibition on them then it raises questions about a whole load of other activities: gun ownership, speed limits, some knives, etc.

    I’ve always actually had a soft-spot for legalising handguns kept in the home, so there really is no prohibitionist here, I’m just against lifting prohibition on everything and think it needs more thought and agreement.

    Best wishes

  • Eddie Sammon 10th Feb '14 - 5:51am

    Would legalising drugs pay for itself? Maybe it would, but it’s a serious question. We prohibit activities that are irresponsible, like drink driving, and I would put hard drug use into the same category.

    Again, I respect disagreements, I just want to see that these questions are being asked and dealt with.

  • Max Wilkinson 10th Feb '14 - 8:09am

    If this is Nick Clegg’s line, perhaps he should tell Lib Dems before they tak up positions in the Home Office and uphold the ‘ban it all’ status quo. First Jeremy Browne and now Norman Baker seem to advocate the same measures as the rest of the political class. It begs the question: why do we bother?

  • Like pretty much everyone here, I don’t really “get” the attraction of using drugs. I drink alcohol and play poker, which are illegal in a lot of countries and (for example in the case of the USA) parts of countries. A lot of people don’t “get” the attraction of poker. I could spend my life trying to justify it as a mind sport similar to chess or bridge, but at the end of the day, in doing that I would be accepting that other people have the right to choose for me.

    Anyone can believe in freedom for religions if they are religious or freedom for investigative journalist if they are politically minded, that’s easy. Freedom though, is really for the times when you don’t “get” it, when you are fighting for someone else’s freedom, even though it doesn’t make much sense from outside. That is why we should support legalisation.

    People like us, whose freedoms are under threat need to start supporting each other, rather than competing for an imaginarily limited amount of freedom. Comparisons between drugs, tobacco and alcohol, discussing which is worse, are not helpful to anyone except those who want to collectivise every decision we make about our own lives.

  • Eddie Sammon 10th Feb '14 - 9:12am

    Richard, it’s not fair for someone innocent to be killed or injured under “freedom to be as irresponsible as you like”. It’s an unelectable political position too.

  • @Eddie Sammon, then why not ban killing or injuring people?

  • Eddie Sammon 10th Feb '14 - 9:53am

    Richard, my point is that if only the killing or injuring is bad, then why don’t we legalise drink driving, speeding and assault rifles? I am not saying legalising drugs is all that bad, but I am saying that responsibility needs to be considered.

  • Richard S 10th Feb ’14 – 8:35am

    You make a reasonable point, and you make it well. However, the death toll from tobacco is so enormous and people usually become addicted so early in life (early teens) that I hope you would acknowledge that it is out there on its own. The latest figure (from the BHF) is that 200,000 children will start smoking this year. This will be the beginning of a life-time addiction, which will kill half of them.
    Whatever the ill effects of playing poker it is simply not in the same league of social harm.

  • Legalise?
    I query whether, given the level of business organisation and monies involved, compared to the US prohibition, the drug gangs will quietly give up their business.

    Yes they may decide to operate a legitimate business front, but I’m sure they will try and retain their monopoly using many of the skills and networks they currently have… In this brave new world is the guy in the street dishing out ‘free samples’ engaged in a legitimate activity or not?

  • Hi Eddie,

    I see your point about the idea of weed and cocaine, but my concern for example about crack and heroin is that if addicts have to be supplied by a criminal it makes it much harder to offer them help. I would not advocate treating them like tobacco or alcohol, but more of an approach inspired by how methadone is dispensed now, which would carefully control who had access to these venerable users.

    One of the issues of prohibition is the way it creates a market for very unsavoury suppliers, if we were to end prohibition I would suggest that it wouldn’t follow the model at the end of US alcohol prohibition but setting up a very tightly controlled distribution network that would not allow the current suppliers in to the process as it would not be offered via the current method.

    Ed Wilson

    Regarding your comment on Cannabis being what is expected, cannabis has gradually increased in strength over time and legalising would allow for differentiation so if people were looking for weaker strains that would also be an option, basically unlike now. So there is also a benefit for cannabis users in terms of transparency too.

    Eddie (again)

    On the question of the cost, it is unlikely to result in dramatic cost savings as the policing resource would probably move to other crimes rather than come as a saving. Though I would expect to see an improvement in the effectiveness of drug addict support, by removing the criminal supply and giving more access to care services.

  • Eddie Sammon 11th Feb '14 - 3:09pm

    Hi Psi, my passion against the article was because I have reservations about legalising hard drugs and it was published in a liberal-socialist newspaper. This sends the wrong message to swing voters and even party members.

  • Eddie Sammon 11th Feb '14 - 3:13pm

    There was also no talk about party values in the article. The party needs to be clear what it stands for.

  • Steve Griffiths 11th Feb '14 - 3:38pm


    “This sends the wrong message to swing voters and even party members.”

    I’m perfectly capable of evaluating any article in any newspaper and the message I am receiving (if any) from it, thank you.

  • Eddie Sammon 11th Feb '14 - 4:30pm

    OK Steve, I used the wrong phrase with “swing voters”. It sends the wrong message to moderates and I don’t think dancing left and right is the right way to hold onto voters.


  • @John Tilley,

    You and I might not think the harm from a mind sport like poker is equivalent to that of tobacco, but poker is illegal in far more places than cigarettes. Online it is illegal in 47 of 50 US states, in any form it is illegal in Japan, in China except Macau also. One of the big sensations at the start of the year has been the Pole, Dominik Panka, who has appeared from nowhere and won two major international tounaments in the space of a few weeks. Of course we all know he didn’t really appear from nowhere and must have been playing before whether live or online but we can’t be told about it (for example his pokerstars screenname) because the Law and Justice party has banned almost all forms of poker in Poland and he could get into trouble; presumably he will now have to emigrate to continue his professional career. Organised Texas holdem poker is illegal in Texas.

    Now of course I know that the above seems crazy to us in the UK, but if we basically accept that it is legitimate to collectivise people’s decisions about their own lives then we put ourselves at the mercy of whatever crazy prejudices the mob may happen to have.

    @Eddie Sammon
    The difference with drink driving and speeding is that the behaviour itself is inherently risky to others. Guns are also not analogous as they are not primarily for use on oneself.

  • Eddie Sammon 12th Feb '14 - 4:44pm

    Richard, I think there should be a compromise. Legalise drugs, but they have to pay for their own healthcare if possible.

  • Eddie Sammon 12th Feb '14 - 4:51pm

    Only their health care related to recreational drugs, of course.

  • @Eddie Sammon,

    Yes that sounds logical and would probably be done through taxation. The compulsory national health system should be something that is provided for our benefit, it should never be used as a kind of “way in” for the government to gain power over us.

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