Lib Dem confrence sees drug reform become official party policy

At the Annual Liberal Democrat Conference last month, Nick Clegg sought to create a tough man persona – out with the dour faces, in with the snappy one liners, and mean gestures. Though the success of this new character is still to be seen, the Lib Dems did succeed in presenting a tougher, more progressive image in one area of social reform – the legalization and market control of drugs.

Led by South Glaswegian delegate Ewan Hoyle, the new motion hopes to see a “reduction of harm associated with drug use” for drug users and for the drug industry’s drain on the economy. The motion’s direct aims are to set up a panel researching the possibility of drug legalization, while simultaneously looking in to decreasing sentences and offering medical and educational support to drug abusers.

Though there has been little support from front benchers this far, the acceptance of the motion into party policy means that the potential for serious debate over drug reform will be seen in the future. This is of course at odds with both Labour and Conservative policy and strong criticism will be levied. So what will the party be able to swing back in its defence?

Foremost is the 70% strong nation-wide support for legal cannabis regulation, with a third wishing to see cannabis sold as a substance similar to alcohol and tobacco. This could see a potential benefit of £6.7 billion per year to the taxpayer, as estimated by the political party CLEAR, which is concerned primarily with seeing a cannabis reform law.

Within this figure is the amount saved with regard to court proceedings and sending one time offenders through the justice system. Also there is the claim, as presented by MEP Chris Davies that “far from reducing the supply of drugs, prohibition has actively encouraged their use. It’s a policy that has failed.” This may be a strong claim, but if we are to compare current drug use in Britain to that in legalized Portugal, where drug use has fallen by half in the last decade since legalization, the call for debate at the very least becomes more and more likely.
[Alice Stearn]

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