YouGov poll shows huge support for Lib Dem drug policy

Last year’s drug policy debate at conference ended with near-unanimous endorsement of the policy motion “protecting individuals and communities from drug harms“, but since then Liberal Democrats seem to have been passing up every opportunity to publicise our new policy.

When Theresa May dismissed the advice of the chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, Lib Dems were silent. When Ken Clarke said the War on Drugs was failing but that decriminalisation wasn’t the answer… Lib Dems were silent. When an audience member of question time last week asked if it was time to control, regulate and tax drugs Ed Davey ignored Liberal Democrat policy and totally misrepresented the questioner’s suggestion.

It has been a hugely frustrating couple of weeks for me as the lead author of the motion we passed last year. I have long felt that communicating this policy to voters would enthuse many more than it would frighten, but I have heard not a peep from the representatives I tried to spur into action.

Finally yesterday we were provided with the evidence that backs up that assertion. A YouGov poll for The Sun has demonstrated widespread support for a government review of drug policy options and even strong evidence that a party calling for such a review might receive a significant poll boost.

One of the questions looked like a direct challenge of Liberal Democrat policy:

“Would you support or oppose a government review of drug policy options, to include the current system of criminalisation, a Portuguese style decriminalisation or full legalisation?”

And our policy came through with flying colours. 58% would support a review, 21% strongly. Only 22% would oppose with only 9% strongly opposed. 59% of those who plan to vote Tory would support a review, with only 22% against.

We have a truly popular drug policy.

The poll then asked how such a policy would affect voting intention:

“Would you be more or less likely to support a political party if it promised to review alternatives to criminalisation, including legalisation and regulation and decriminalisation?”

34% of Labour supporters would be more likely to vote for a party with this policy (the Liberal Democrats), as would 23% of Tories. Only 11% of Lib Dems would be less likely to vote for (us) while 50% would be more likely!

The results are well worth examining and are available here on page 8. The results on page 7 are also interesting.

Can we please now start telling the voters about this policy and make a concerted effort to get a drug policy review onto the government agenda? By the evidence of this poll the party taking the first step will be rewarded and we really don’t want to miss out.

The brave members who spoke in the debate from personal experience of addiction, domestic violence and heartbreaking loss have been disappointed for too long. Courage is not the issue any longer. Taking action is now a simple matter of political wisdom coupled with a principled determination to find a better way.

* Ewan Hoyle is a West Scotland list candidate for the Scottish Parliament election next May

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  • Richard Dean 10th Jul '12 - 10:38am

    You’re certainly correct that this is a very serious problem which needs much better attention.

    Why did May dismiss the advice – surely she must have given her reasons?
    What is Ken Clarke’s answer?
    How might Ed Davey have improved his answer?

    I imagine that many of the health hazards of illicit drugs could be dramatically reduced by proper controls, and this would allow the undoubted mental and physical health benefits of some of these drugs to be properly harnessed.

    Illegality tends to be self-perpetuating too. Having been out of the drug scene for a couple of decades I don’t know how it is now, but back then there was no such thing as possession for one’s own use. People tended to evangelise whatever drug they were using.

  • The case for reform is being put this morning at the Home Affairs Select Committee. It can be watched live at:

  • Here’s Theresa May’s position that I criticised here:

    I don’t believe Ken Clarke has an answer.

    On the Ed Davey debacle:

    Towards the end of Thursday’s edition of Question Time (41 minutes in if anyone wants to watch) an audience member asked the panel:

    “Is it time to stop the war on drugs and instead regulate, control and tax it?”

    David Dimbleby turned first to Ed Davey, presenting him with an excellent opportunity to communicate Liberal Democrat drug policy. Instead he ignored both our policy and the subtleties of the developing drug regulation debate hinted at by the words “regulate and control” in the question.

    Here is the answer he gave:
    “Well I think Kenneth Clarke really has probably opened a debate and I think that’s very brave of him to do that, the Secretary of State for the Ministry of Justice. And I think it’s important that we do have the debate. I’ve never been convinced by some of the arguments that say we could completely free up drugs because I think there are real medical problems that result for people. People can be really vulnerable and can be abused by people who are in drug communities. I personally think the real emphasis in drugs policy should be on rehabilitation. Really helping people and their families when they suffer from a drug addiction. The government has begun to do more on that but I think we should continue that work.”

    How does an intelligent man hear “regulate control and tax” and say “completely free up drugs”? Would medical problems be more or less likely to occur (and be identified and treated) in a legal regulated market? Would legal “drug communities” be more or less abusive? Is rehabilitation more important than preventing harm occurring in the first place?

    If Ed had paid attention to last year’s debate of our drug policy – a motion that was passed with only one or two votes against – he might instead have given an answer a little more like this:

    “Liberal Democrats share Ken Clarke’s opinion that the War on Drugs has failed. But it is vitally important that we fight a War on Drugs. Drugs can cause terrible amounts of harm to individuals, families and communities. The Liberal Democrats believe we need to urgently review all the potential weapons at our disposal for this fight, whether they be decriminalisation of drug possession, increasing enforcement efforts, or as the questioner suggests, controlling and regulating drugs. If we were to go down that route, it would be wise to investigate options for cannabis first. One option might be to sell it from pharmacists to over 18s, giving them detailed information on potential health harms before they use it. We can’t say the War on Drugs has failed and just carry on regardless with the same old policies. We have to investigate alternatives that might better protect young people from harm both from drugs, and from unnecessary criminal records.”

  • Will Griffiths 13th Jul '12 - 3:38pm

    I’ve always found this a challening issue to take a position on. Individually as a Lib Dem I’m lukewarm to the idea of decriminalising Cannabis, with the consideration that there is a convincing and scientifically strong case backing such a move. However, outright legalisation of all drugs and providing them through regulated means might not be the best idea either. There needs to be a policy put in place that doesn’t criminalise users, instead offering them routes for help if they so desire, but still ensuring that it is difficult to obtain drugs, especially those that are Class A. I would absolutely agree that the current policies on drugs need a review, which would aim to move those who might be victims of addictions away from being criminals to offering help without legal reprecussion for admission of using a certain drug.
    However I don’t think the support for a full legalisation policy is as strong as this article makes out; I remember last year at my University Student’s Union that there was a motion put forward on supporting the legalisation and regulation of drugs and it was heavily defeated, 60-70% opposing.
    I think we need to be very careful about the possiblity of legalisation, and whether some, or all drugs should be legalised and what means they would be regulated. Perhaps some substance to this policy, in what sort of regulation would be involved to make the case a bit more convincing.

  • Joshua Dixon 15th Jul '12 - 1:00am

    All we can say is thank god Liberal Youth will be shouting about this from the rooftops!

  • @Liberal Eye
    I agree with you on the issue of a government monopoly.
    And yes I do suspect there is a planned policy of not providing leadership on issues like this.

    On the decriminalisation argument, there’s a really good report out by Release that provides strong evidence that it works to reduce harm:
    I support experimenting with cannabis regulation starting from very strict regulation of pharmacy sales in a state monopoly. Once we have evaluated the impact of such a policy on levels of harm, we can adjust regulation and perhaps add other drugs to the regulatory framework if the evidence indicates that seems wise.

    You can read my submission to the Home Affairs Select Committee drug enquiry here (page 197):

  • I’m sorry but I know a lot of people who come out of prison addicts who weren’t when they went in. The drugs are there for a reason ??? Four walls but drug are in control and it just go’s undetected. Customs is a joke at Liverpool to Ireland do you have any clue of how much guns and drugs come through weekly if not daily ? This isn’t rocket science given less funds than wot is given at mo I could make a bigger difference , stoping drugs in prison would change all situations. Drugs are on every street corner smack is here coke is dead unless washed in to crack , c meth is also showin signs which will b biggest worse wave ever to hit uk .

  • Ewan, Why is your call for drug policy reform still being ignored by members of the Lib Dems? Jeremy Browne is about to set off on a jolly around the world looking at alternative drug policies yet before he leaves the press report him as saying –

    ”I’m proud of the UK’s drug policy and there are strong signs our approach is working. Illegal drug use is at its lowest level since records began and far more people are leaving treatment free from dependency than ever before.”

    Is this not just Tory misinformation. We all know very well that the UK’s drug policy is most definitely not working.

  • Maybe now that Jeremy Browne is no longer a minister acting against LibDem drug liberalisation things can move a bit? So many wasted lives, teachers losing their drugs over a bit of weed, becoming alcoholics….

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