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During the past week, the issue over decriminalising drugs has certainly gathered pace and it appears as if Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, and the Green Party are in agreement on at least one issue; that the government’s ‘war on drugs’ has failed. 

Nick Clegg seems to be in good company too, as The Guardian reported only last week that Sir Richard Branson is urging the UK to consider decriminalising the use and possession of almost all drugs, following the example of Portugal. It wasn’t surprising then, when the two stepped out in a joint press conference last Wednesday to call for a significant rethink on drugs laws and the decriminalisation of drugs. 

Branson himself has always been quick to point out that he does not endorse party politics, but he’s very vocal on specific campaigns. As a member on the global commission on drugs policy he is calling for an international rethink on drugs laws. 

The debate follows on from the Home Office’s own research study last year, which was commissioned by Liberal Democrats. It found there is no direct correlation between the ‘toughness’ of a country’s prohibition measures and the occurrence of adult drug use.

The Liberal Democrats emphasise that Portugal decriminalised all drugs 15 years ago and has seen drug abuse drop by half. Funds are being used to find innovative ways of reconnecting drug abusers and addicts with society. 

In Portugal, drugs remain illegal, but drug users are dealt with through the civil rather than the criminal law. Those arrested for drug possession are immediately assessed and sent for treatment and other support. If they make a choice not to engage they are fined. 

That is, of course, a rather simplistic overview, but does give us an idea of the sheer magnitude of changes being suggested – fundamentally, it would mean a complete overhaul in how we as society view drugs and drug addicts and would certainly transform the roles for those in substance misuse jobs and the wider criminal justice sector

It’s no secret that The Green party are calling for the decriminalisation of cannabis – this is an issue that they’ve been campaigning on for some time. But what does the Conservative party make of this in the run up to the elections?

The Guardian reports that the Centre for Social Justice, a charity that works closely with works and pensions secretary and Conservative MP, Iain Duncan Smith, takes the view that charities on the front line in the struggle against drug addiction are opposed to decriminalisation. In fact, last Wednesday, on the same day Nick Clegg and Sir Richard Branson held their joint press conference, the charity released stats revealing what charities think. The research suggests that 69% of charities were concerned by the prospect of the government decriminalising cannabis.

The government has previously maintained that the current drugs strategy is working, and does not appear to be making a u-turn on this assertion –the Conservatives have remained relatively quiet following last week’s conference. 

The Liberal Democrats on the other hand, confirmed the following policies for their manifesto:

  • Adopt the approach used in Portugal. 
  • Legislate to end the use of imprisonment for possession of drugs for personal use, diverting resources towards tackling organised drug crime instead.
  • Continue to apply severe penalties to those who manufacture, import or deal in illegal drugs, and clamp down on those who produce and sell unregulated chemical highs.
  • Review the effectiveness of the cannabis legalisation experiments in the US and Uruguay.
  • Legislate to make the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs independent in setting the classification of drugs, while remaining accountable to Parliament and the wider public.
  • Enable doctors to prescribe cannabis for medicinal use.
  • Put the Department of Health rather than the Home Office in charge of drug policy.

Other party viewpoints:

Labour

Is against the decriminalisation of drugs and is proposing to ban the sale and distribution of legal highs.

UKIP

Party leader Nigel Farage has supports the idea of a Royal Commission on drugs policy to examine the changes to existing policy.

Green Party

Has been advocating the decriminalisation of cannabis for some time and wants to see an end to prison sentences for the possession of other drugs. 

Plaid Cymru

Supports an evidence-based impact assessment of existing drug laws.

SNP

Drug policy should be devolved to Scotland.

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