- Deputy Prime Minister calls for an end to the ‘knee-jerk prejudice’ on drugs
- Lib Dems will end imprisonment for small amounts of drugs for personal use
- Mr Clegg also vows to set up a commission on effectiveness of drugs laws
‘The Liberal Democrats are ‘open minded’ about allowing licensed cannabis shops on British streets as part of a sweeping review of drugs laws.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said wanted an end to the ‘knee-jerk prejudice’ and desire to appear tough on drugs.
The party’s pre-manifesto, which will form the basis of the policies the Lib Dems will fight the next election on, promises to end imprisonment for people found carrying a small amount of drugs for personal use.
It also calls for the establishment of a commission to assess the effectiveness of current drugs laws and alternative approaches, including punishment by civil penalties rather than a criminal conviction.
The party’s conference, which sets Lib Dem policy, is also expected to back a paper which calls for a review to consider the approach recently adopted in Uruguay and Colorado, USA, where licensed shops are allowed to sell cannabis.
Mr Clegg stressed that the party was not advocating legalisation, but said that policy makers needed to have an ‘unprejudiced mind’ about drug use.
Asked whether he wanted to see shops legally selling cannabis on the streets of England and Wales, he said: ‘We are not advocating blanket legalisation.
‘I am very anxious that the debate about drugs doesn’t descend into a cardboard cut-out polarisation between those who say the way to deal with the drugs issue is just to lock everybody up in jail, and another bunch of people saying ‘you just need to legalise everything under the sun’.
‘I actually don’t think legalisation is an automatic solution and we are not saying that we are advocating that.
‘What we are saying is that we need to look with an unprejudiced mind about the initiatives that other countries and states in America are doing.
‘Quite a lot of these things are very recent changes indeed, so it is far too early to tell what lessons they teach us.
‘But I think as long as you keep an open mind about things, that’s one thing, but we are not advocating that now and won’t be advocating that as a definite step in our next manifesto.’
The pre-manifesto, which will be debated and voted on by party members at the Glasgow conference next month, commits the party to ‘end the use of imprisonment for possession of drugs for personal use’ and make drugs and alcohol policy the responsibility of the Department of Health rather than the Home Office.
Mr Clegg said: ‘It just doesn’t make sense to clog up the prisons with young people who need treatment, not a crash course behind bars about how to deal in ever harder drugs.’
At a press conference in Westminster, Mr Clegg said: ‘There are lots of other countries … there are states in the United States, there are countries in Latin America, there’s Portugal, which are doing a number of different things.
‘What we have said in our pre-manifesto is very sensible: we will look at it, we will look at what the evidence shows works.
‘I have been a long-standing advocate that drugs policy has been blighted in this country by knee-jerk prejudice and a wish to appear tough, rather than actually do what works.
‘So if other countries develop strategies which show real results, let’s look at them.’
The 80-page pre-manifesto includes a plan to hand people aged 16-21 a travel pass giving them a 66% discount on bus travel in England.
The move forms part of a targeted group of policies in a ‘manifesto for the next generation’ aimed at improving the lives of youngsters – a group of voters who have deserted the Lib Dems following the U-turn over tuition fees.