Following the announcement that the Lib Dems would debate the possibility of changing the current drug policy at their party conference, it was decided by the party that an independent panel should consider legalising cannabis as part of a wholesale review of drug laws.
The motion was passed with only one or two votes against, according to Andrew Wiseman, the chair of the Lib Dems’ federal policy committee. The experts will consider whether possession of any currently illegal drug should remain a criminal offence. The panel would carry out an impact assessment of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 to evaluate, “economically and scientifically”, the legal framework prohibiting drugs.
The motion was passed by the Liberal Democrat conference in Birmingham as a senior lawyer told activists that current drug policy is not working.
Caroline Chatwin, an expert in drugs policy at the University of Kent, said the Lib Dems’ motion represented “an important and positive step forward in the recognition that the harm caused by drug policy can be greater than the harm caused by drugs themselves”.
“Every year, many people, particularly young people, are criminalised for the possession of drugs when, apart from their drug use, they are otherwise law abiding citizens,” she said.
“This is a state of play that causes harm to both individuals who are criminalised and society in general, which suffers the consequences of large numbers of disaffected and marginalised members. […] It is particularly damaging that particular groups, such as disadvantaged black males, are disproportionately stopped by the police on suspicion of minor drug offences, breeding disaffection and alienation amongst whole communities.”
Alistair Webster QC, a crown court recorder and chairman of the Lib Dem lawyers association, told the conference:
“I have practised in the courts, both as an advocate and judge, for over 30 years and it’s plain to anybody who has spent time in that way that the drug policy which we have followed since 1967 is not working.”
Ewan Hoyle, from South Glasgow, proposed the policy and told the conference that politicians had not tackled the issue because of “cowardice” in the face of a potentially hostile backlash in the press. He said:
“The war on drugs is not working, but it’s essential that we keep fighting. Drugs are harmful, they can take young people to places that are every parent’s worst nightmare: insanity, disease, destitution, prostitution, death. […] We have to keep fighting in the best way we can to stop young people from all walks slipping into lives of misery and early graves. […] We are still fighting a massive 21st century drug problem with 20th century methods.”
Mr Hoyle called for cannabis to be sold in pharmacists where it could be regulated.
“The motion calls for models of cannabis regulation to be investigated. I personally favour sale from pharmacies. […] If we want to send a message that cannabis is harmful – and we should how better to do so than through a health professional at the point of intended purchase? […] No pharmacist is going to suggest the customer progresses to the use of heroin or crack. And no pharmacist would sell to a child.”
Mr Hoyle said in Portugal and Switzerland they had followed expert advice to treat drug use as a medical rather than a moral or criminal issue. In the UK, political cowardice has resulted in a £6 billion illegal drug market. Hoyle said:
“It isn’t taxed and the vast majority of the profits go into the hands of organised criminal gangs. This includes millions of pounds to the Taliban in Afghanistan, with which they can purchase the bombs and bullets that murder our brave soldiers.” and accused the current policy of “enriching criminals.”
George Miles told the conference: “Taxation of cannabis could net £2 billion a year, says one estimate, which would build hospitals instead of funding terrorists.”
Any money made available by these reforms would be used for education, treatment and rehabilitation.
Cognitive Liberty UK would like to express gratitude to those politicians who are brave enough to honestly explore and examine the issue. The Lib Dem conference decision is a victory for common-sense and a big step forward in adequately protecting the cognitive liberties of British people.