What Lib Dem members make of drug reforms and regulations on alcohol and tobacco sales

Lib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. Some 564 party members responded, and we are publishing the full results here over several days.

Seeking to assess the support amongst the party membership for reforms to how alcohol, tobacco and currently illicit drugs are regulated, the latest LDV members survey has thrown up some interesting results – we’ll start by looking at what respondents make of the current regulatory regimes for alcohol and tobacco.

Most LDV readers back status quo on regulation of alcohol an tobacco

LDV asked: In general, do you think existing regulations and taxes on the sale and use of alcohol…
Go too far: 10.8%
Are about right: 51.1%
Don’t go far enough: 34.8%
N/a – it should be illegal: 0.2%
Don’t know / No opinion: 3.2%

Asked the same question in relation to tobacco sales and use, the readers’ responses were as follows:
Go too far: 9.8%
Are about right: 53.0%
Don’t go far enough: 32.8%
N/a – it should be illegal: 2.3%
Don’t know / No opinion: 2.1%

There is remarkable consistency between the responses, with a significant minority saying the regulations on both alcohol and tobacco sales don’t go far enough (3 times as many as those who say they go too far already) whereas a clear majority say they’re both about right.

As the Prime Minister recently asked for minimum alcohol pricing proposals to be explored, these results are a timely indicator of the party’s position on the matter. It appears that current levels of regulation are considered appropriate by LDV readers, although admittedly there wasn’t a specific question relating to minimum alcohol pricing – it would be interesting to determine readers’ response to the current proposals (as advocated here by Ewan Hoyle), the Scottish minimum price policy that’s imminent, and the kind of proposals put forward by drugs expert Prof. David Nutt.

Majority of LDV readers support legalisation of possession of cannabis, with significant support for reform regarding other drugs

LDV asked: Which, if any, of the following drugs do you think should be legalised (ie, permit both possession and regulated sale)?
Cannabis: 69.7%
Amphetamine (“speed”): 31.0%
Cocaine powder: 27.8%
Ecstasy: 38.3%
Magic Mushrooms: 37.8%
LSD: 29.1%
Ketamine: 20.7%
Crack cocaine: 17.4%
Methamphetamine (“crystal meth”): 16.8%
Heroin: 23.1%
Other drugs: 4.8%
None of them: 18.3%
Don’t know / No opinion: 11.0%

There is significant support for reform of the way drugs are regulated, with a clear majority of respondents backing the decriminalisation of cannabis possession and its regulated sale. Interestingly significant numbers of LDV readers also back a similar regime for drugs that are currently ‘Class A’.

This support for drug law reform, affirmed at Lib Dem Conference in Birmingham, is mirrored by overwhelming support for the way that the harms from drug use is dealt with.

LDV asked: Assume that at least some drugs remain illicit, and that supply would continue to be punishable as now. How should possession for personal use typically be treated?

A huge majority of LDV readers (85.8%), when asked how possession for personal use of those drugs that remain illicit should be dealt with, backed alternatives to the current criminal sanctions (backed by just 7.5%). Such scant support for the status quo is mirrored by opinion in the Conservative party, where ConservativeHome readers backed changes to the way drugs are regulated – albeit with significant support for what many see as a tougher stance.

The party’s progressive stance on drug law reform comes in the context of ambivalence about the electoral consequences thereof:

LDV asked: On balance, do you think the Lib Dems would benefit or suffer electorally if the party’s MPs and/or manifesto were to vocally support substantial drug policy reform?
Benefit a lot: 7.5%
Benefit a little: 24%
No significant difference: 19.7%
Suffer a little: 29.4%
Suffer a lot: 14.7%
Don’t know / No opinion: 4.8%

So currently there are more LDV readers who think that the party would suffer to some extent if we vocally supported drug law reform than those who consider a reforming stance a potential benefit. It may be that as voters become more familiar with the arguments in favour of evidence-based reform of the failed ‘war on drugs,’ and as Lib Dems own the reform agenda more clearly, the responses to the last question may change. 2012 is likely to be a pivotal year in the effort to secure drug law reform, as the Home Affairs select committee conducts an inquiry into drugs policy. Of course the party’s policy is for an independent panel to conduct a full Impact Assessment and review of the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act, but the HASC inquiry does represent an important staging post on the way.

What’s clear is that LDV readers are fully engaged with the movement to ensure that the UK has robust, evidence-based policy to control the harms that stem from drug use – the debate as to the details of such policy continues apace.

  • Over 1,200 Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with LibDemVoice.org. Some 564 responded to the latest survey, which was conducted between 9th and 13th December.
  • Please note: we make no claims that the survey is fully representative of the Lib Dem membership as a whole. However, LibDemVoice.org’s surveys are the largest independent samples of the views of Lib Dem members across the country, and have in the past accurately predicted the winners of the contest for Party President, and the result of the conference decision to approve the Coalition agreement.
  • The full archive of our members’ surveys can be viewed at www.libdemvoice.org/category/ldv-members-poll

* Prateek Buch is Director of the Social Liberal Forum and serves on the Liberal Democrat Federal Policy Committee

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This entry was posted in News.


  • Louise Shaw 30th Dec '11 - 5:12pm

    I am against minimum pricing for alcohol – if it really has to be done (show me the evidence) then surely it should be a tax – what are the arguments against it being a tax rather than minimum pricing?

  • Colin Green 30th Dec '11 - 6:30pm


    A tax would have little effect on cheap alcohol but a big effect on more expensive products. The idea of a minimum price is exactly the opposite – the effect is huge on the cheapest brands but has no effect on anything already more expensive than the minimum price. The aim, by those who support it, is to discourage people from buying huge quantities of cheap alcohol.

  • Joe Donnelly 30th Dec '11 - 6:59pm

    Quite a few people in the party seem to have missed out the anti-paternalism side to being a liberal.

  • Simon McGrath 31st Dec '11 - 8:26am

    @Oranjepan “they are the biggest culprits regarding sale of cheap alcohol because of their corporate muscle.”

    you think it a bad thing that super markets are able to use bulk buying to sell things people want to buy cheaply?

  • Somewhat disgusted that roughly a third of respondents think that the present vilification of smokers ‘doesn’t go far enough’… Nice to see that only 18% are against legalising any sort of recreational drugs though.

    Also – would the (0.2% can surely only signify 1?) ‘LIBERAL’ Democrat who presumably wants to ban both alcohol and tobacco, like to give us a wave?

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