Nick Clegg calls for reform of drugs laws – Guardian

Nick Clegg says Britain is “losing the war on drugs on an industrial scale”, accusing politicians of “a conspiracy of silence” when they know present policies are not working.

Committing the Liberal Democrats to a major review of how to tackle the problem in the 2015 election manifesto, the deputy prime minister said David Cameron should have the courage to look at issues such as decriminalisation or legalisation of drugs.

Clegg threw his weight behind the report from the Commons home affairs select committee earlier this week that recommended that a royal commission look at such options.

He said: “In politics, as in life, you can’t keep on doing something that does not work. You can’t keep making the same mistakes.

“If you were waging any other war where you have 2,000 fatalities a year, your enemies are making billions in profits, constantly throwing new weapons at you and targeting young people – you’d have to say you are losing and it’s time to do something different.”

Clegg’s intervention comes just days after Cameron ruled out such a commission.

In an interview with the Sun, Clegg said he had already challenged Cameron on the issue and ordered a fellow Liberal Democrat minister to make a fact-finding tour of how other countries tackled it.

“I was disappointed that the Home Office ruled out an open-minded, level-headed look at all this before the ink had even dried on the committee report. I told the prime minister that this was a missed opportunity. He knows my views on this. He and I don’t agree on this.”

Clegg criticised attitudes at Westminster. “For too long, people in politics have worried that saying something differently can somehow look like you are being soft. It’s important now to pluck up the courage to speak.”

He said politicians knew the “war on drugs” wasn’t working, but when in government they said everything was fine. “We’ve got to level with the British people and tell them what many people already know – it’s time to do something different.”

Clegg has asked Jeremy Browne, a Lib Dem Home Office minister, to look at approaches in Portugal, Amsterdam, the US and Latin America. He said the former Mexican president, Felipe Calderón, had privately admitted to him last year that his country’s attempt to crush drug barons by military force had failed, claiming 60,000 lives. “He said to me: ‘It’s not working. We can’t win against these odds.'”

Britain should be leading international debate, Clegg said, although he was not in favour of full legalisation. He said decriminalisation of possession while cracking down on traffickers and dealers might be a solution.

“Far from being soft, I want to get tougher on gangs who profit from the misery of drug addicts,” he said.

Although the coalition government was doing “great things” on treatment, “we owe it to young people to find out what does work and then do it”.

Clegg told the BBC: “Both the prime minister and I are relaxed about the idea that this isn’t an identikit government … The home secretary and indeed the prime minister are perfectly entitled to say that they want the government’s present approach to be given a chance to work and don’t want the distraction of a royal commission. My view is that we’ve been waging the war on drugs for almost 40 years, and I don’t think by any stretch of the imagination it has worked.”

Danny Kushlick, of Transform, which campaigns for drugs policy reform, told the Sun Clegg should be congratulated for “telling us the truth about the war on drugs”.


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