Pubdate: Sun, 09 Feb 2014
Source: Observer, The (UK)
Copyright: 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited
Author: Jamie Doward
Page: 1


'If You Are Anti-Drugs, You Should Be Pro-Reform'

Deputy PM's Anger at Tory Silence on Issue

Nick Clegg today drags the case for reforming the drugs laws to the
centre ground of British politics, saying that blanket prohibition has
seen cocaine use triple in less than 20 years, a trend that has helped
perpetuate conflict and violence in South America.

Writing in today's Observer, after a week in which he visited Colombia
to learn first-hand the devastating effects that Europe's enthusiasm
for cocaine has had on the country, Clegg said the UK needed to be at
the heart of the debate about potential alternatives to blanket
prohibition and that he wanted to see an end to "the tradition where
politicians only talk about drugs reform when they have left office
because they fear the political consequences".

The deputy prime minister said such an approach "has stifled debate
and inhibited a proper examination of our approach. Put simply, if you
are antidrugs, you should be pro-reform".

His comments will be seen by some observers as politically expedient,
designed to distance the Lib Dems from the Tories in the runup to the
next election. In his article, Clegg expresses his frustration "at my
coalition partner's refusal to engage in a proper discussion about the
drugs problem".

In some of the most outspoken comments on the issue by a serving
British politician, Clegg laments the current situation in which "one
in five young people have admitted taking drugs in the last year", and
"cocaine use has more than trebled since 1996" and claims that "every
time someone dies of an overdose it should shame our political class".

Looking to 2016, when the UN is due to hold a meeting to discuss
potential reform of its prohibitionist drug conventions, Clegg states:
"The UN drug conventions badly need revising. I want European
countries to work together to agree a common position in favour of
reform to take to that discussion in 2016. The UK can lead the debate
in Europe and Europe can lead the debate in the world. But we must be
prepared to start afresh with a new mindset and be prepared to do
things differently."

His intervention comes as a growing number of US states move towards a
regulated trade in marijuana, and at a time when increasing numbers of
Latin American countries have stated that the war on drugs doesn't
work and are demanding that the world consider alternative approaches.

During his visit, Clegg met the country's president, Juan Manuel
Santos, as well as former paramilitaries, guerrillas and human rights
representatives. "All were clear about the central role of the drugs
trade in perpetuating conflict and violence and the need to build a
better future," Clegg says. "Many people in Britain and the rest of
Europe will be unaware of the impact drug use in western nations has
on countries on the frontline of the drugs trade."

Reiterating his call for a royal commission on Britain's drugs laws,
Clegg says future legislation should be based on "what works, not
guesswork". The Lib Dems are conducting a review of international
alternatives which will produce what Clegg claims is "the first proper
UK government report examining different approaches in other countries".

It is clear the deputy prime minister believes there is a need for
politicians of all parties to confront an issue in a non-partisan way
if the harm caused by drugs is ever to be tackled successfully.

"If Britain were fighting a war where 2,000 people died every year,
where increasing numbers of our young people were recruited by the
enemy and our opponents were always a step ahead, there would be
outcry and loud calls for change," Clegg says. "Yet this is exactly
the situation with the so-called "war on drugs" and for far too long
we have resisted a proper debate about the need for a different strategy."

His comments, which will dismay those who believe change will
encourage drug taking, were warmly received by pro-reform

"Bad drug policies have an international impact, whether it's black
market related violence or borderless health crises," said Kasia
Malinowska-Sempruch, director of the Open Society Global Drug Policy
Foundation. "So charting a new course is the job of every country.

"A number of European countries developed great health services for
people who use drugs, but far less attention has been paid to the
issues faced by producer and transit countries."
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MAP posted-by: Matt