Newbury panel on drugs policy

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Norman Lamb spoke last night in Newbury at a panel discussion on drugs misuse and our current drug laws.

Norman said that he has thought through the “drugs danger” and whether it should receive a criminal response or a health response. He said he has concluded that there should be a health response. He alluded to John Stuart Mill’s ‘self-regarding acts’, where the state shouldn’t interfere and ‘other-regarding acts’ where some state intervention may be justified. He said that it is wrong to criminalise those suffering mental ill health who resort to drugs because of their condition. It is “ridiculous”, Norman asserted, that we still put people in prison for personal drugs use.

Warming to his theme, Norman declared:

The global war on drugs has been a catastrophic failure. We hand criminal networks hundreds of billions of pounds a year. What has it achieved?

To back up his points, Norman brought in references to experience in Portugal and states in the USA such as Colorado, Washington, Washington DC and Oregon.

He outlined three actions he’d like to see:

  1. The legalisation of cannabis for medicinal use.
  2. Decriminalisation of all drug use, as distinct from legalisation of drugs. Norman used Portugal as his model where he said their drugs law liberalisation is supported across the political spectrum. He said that people caught in possession of drugs in Portugal are put before a panel which considers whether they should have treatment.
  3. Reform of United Nations treaties which retard the liberalisation of drugs laws.

He added that such policies would not lose the Lib Dems votes – indeed young people are overwhelmingly supportive of drugs liberalisation:

If you want to identify with young people, address their concerns of seeing their friends criminalised by their drugs use.

Also on the panel, Liberal Democrat drugs policy campaigner, Georgina Hughes bemoaned the way people are forced into a criminal underworld though drugs use, where millions are spent on law enforcement. She argued that legalisation should not mean that drugs are more available than now. It should mean that they are less available than now, with more assurance of a cleaner product and dosage control.

Rev. Paul Cowan related his somewhat harrowing experience helping homeless men addicted to drugs. He said that class A drugs should not be legalised as it would make them more available. He said that neither legalisation nor decriminalisation are magic solutions and that there is no real supportive evidence yet available from states or countries which have gone down that route. He said that there should be a broad holistic approach involving a series of “carrots and sticks”.

Recently retired GP, Dr Meg Thomas said that her experience with drug addicts has convinced her that there needs to be legalisation of drugs with a range of regulation, which should be very tight for drugs such as heroin and crack cocaine.

All-in-all it was a very thought-provoking evening with an excellent panel. The event was organised by Newbury and West Berkshire Liberal Democrats, chaired excellently by Denise Gaines and held at St Francis de Sales church hall in Newbury.