There has been some confusion among some people as to where the Liberal Democrats currently stand on drugs. The below is a reply that a user received to an email querying this very topic. I have highlighted what I feel are some of the most important parts, although everything is important to a certain degree.
There is definite room for improvement in many of these policies, as several things have changed since this was written and several important documents have been published from various organisations (eg. Transform - Blueprint for Regulation) that have the potential to inform this policy.
The Policy in Brief
The punitive approach to drug users that we have followed for decades has not been
successful. Drug use is higher than ever and our prisons are full to bursting with drug
addicts. It is time to stop criminalising drug users and start focusing on ending their
addiction through medical treatment. The Liberal Democrats will place policy making in
the drugs field on a much firmer evidence-based footing. This will involve the reform of
excessive and counterproductive criminal penalties and the promotion of a more
effective policy to reduce drug dependency and its adverse consequences. We will also
break the links between cannabis use and organised crime and release police resources
for higher priority tasks.
Why is it Necessary
The current law is not working. It neither effectively deters people from drug use nor
ensures effective education and treatment. The UK has one of the most punitive
approaches in Europe, yet according to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and
Drug Abuse the UK has one of the highest levels of drug use in Europe.
1 In 2006/07, 10% of adults (age 16-59) in England and Wales had used one or more
illegal drug in the past year, and 5.9% in the last month.
2 In 2006/07, 24.1% of 16-24 year olds said they had used an illegal drug in the last
year. 8.3 % reported ‘frequent use’.
3 In 2007, 17% of 11-15 year olds in England say they have used illegal drugs in the
last year, 10% in the last month.
4 We need to view drug misuse more as a public health issue and focus overstretched
criminal justice resources on the dealers and organised criminals. The law has to be
credible. The current classification system needs to be changed to ensure it is more
We believe treatment and prevention should be the priority for individuals who use
drugs. But the full force of the criminal law should be directed at the thugs and pushers
who run the illegal drugs trade. Our overstretched police, courts and prisons should be
focusing their efforts on these organised criminals. That is why we are proposing tough
new measures to combat them, including a new offence of ‘dealing’ to target those
supplying illegal drugs over long periods of time, making it easier to confiscate their
assets, and allowing the selling of drugs near children to be an aggravating factor in
Place policy making in the drugs field on a much firmer evidence-based footing by:
Re-establishing the existing Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs as a standing
Drugs Commission with a wider range of expertise, greater independence from the
Government, and a remit to look at social effects and abuse of legal drugs
including alcohol, tobacco and solvents as well as currently illegal drugs.
Giving the Drugs Commission the task of advising the Government on appropriate
scheduling of drugs and policy responses on a continuous basis.
Requiring the Drugs Commission to conduct a major audit of the extent and social
and economic costs of the drugs problem in the UK and the effectiveness of
policies to tackle it.
Seeking to initiate a European level review of the drugs problem and the range of
policy responses with a view to securing renegotiation of UN Conventions on Drug
Trafficking. (this is very important)
Break the links between cannabis use and organised crime and release police
resources for higher priority tasks by:
Retaining the classification of cannabis as a Class C drug, in line with the
recommendations of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), which
the Government ignored.
Adopting a policy of not prosecuting possession for own use, social supply to
adults or cultivation of cannabis plants for own use.
Repealing Sections 8 (c) and (d) of the Misuse of Drugs Act so that it is no longer a
crime for the occupier or manager of premises to permit someone to use cannabis
on those premises.
Permitting medical use of cannabis derivatives, subject to appropriate
pharmaceutical controls and the successful conclusion of current clinical trials.
In the longer term, seeking to put the supply of cannabis on a legal, regulated
basis, subject to securing necessary renegotiation of the UN Conventions. The
Global Cannabis Commission report of September 2008, published as part of the
2009 UN drug policy review supports a policy of regulated availability to minimise
the harms associated with cannabis abuse, adding that much of this harm is a
result of prohibition itself.
Reform excessive and counterproductive criminal penalties by:
Ending the use of imprisonment for possession for own use of illegal drugs of any
Re-classifying ecstasy from Class A to Class B, but not re-classifying it further unless
recommended by the Drugs Commission subject to evidence on long-term health
effects. The ACMD is currently undertaking a review of ecstasy’s Class A status.
Amending sections 8 (a) and (b) of the Misuse of Drugs Act as recommended by
Runciman so that occupiers or managers of premises only commit a crime if they
knowingly and wilfully permit the supply or production of illegal drugs on those
Promote a more effective policy to reduce drug dependency and its adverse
Developing specialist heroin treatment clinics where heroin or heroin substitutes
can be administered under controlled conditions, with other medical treatment
and testing, and counselling and withdrawal programmes available, with the longterm
aim of making such services widely available.
Allowing GPs to prescribe short term or emergency maintenance doses of
addictive drugs, particularly diamorphine hydrochloride (heroin), to remove the
dependence of any new or existing addicts on criminal suppliers.
Repealing section 9A of the Misuse of Drugs Act to allow harm minimisation
programmes to distribute drug paraphernalia such as safe tourniquets, as
recommended by Runciman.
Assessing other alternatives to criminal sanctions such as Drug Treatment and
Testing Orders (DTTOs) and Drug Abstinence Orders (DAOs) and if suitable,
extending their use. DTTOs are used for offenders who have drug misuse issues
that require treatment. It requires compliance by the offender, who receives
supervised treatment and regular testing. DAOs are aimed at low level offenders,
with low level drug use, who are not assessed as being suitable for treatment.
Re-allocating resources towards making treatment and rehabilitation facilities and
programmes more generally available.
Crack down on illegal drug trafficking and drug affected driving by:
Introducing a new offence of ‘dealing’ as recommended by Runciman to allow
more effective action against those proved to be supplying illegal drugs over long
periods of time.
Allowing the selling of drugs near schools, psychiatric facilities and other sensitive
locations to be an aggravating factor in sentencing, as recommended by
Launching a public information campaign on the dangers of drug-affected driving,
and encouraging the police to carry out roadside sobriety testing of suspected
unfit drivers when appropriate.
Sending just 1 in 10 drug users to residential rehab instead of prison
would save £40m a year.