Pubdate: Mon, 18 Apr 2016
Source: Guardian, The (UK)
Copyright: 2016 Guardian News and Media Limited
Author: Anushka Asthana


Nick Clegg has accused the home secretary, Theresa May, of attempting 
to delete sentences from a Whitehall report after it concluded that 
there was no link between tough laws and levels of illegal drug use.

The former deputy prime minister also said senior Conservatives, such 
as David Cameron and George Osborne, have failed to act on drug 
reform because they see the issue as a "naughty recreational secret" 
at Notting Hill dinner parties instead of a public health crisis.

In an interview with the Guardian before a major UN conference on the 
global drug problem, Clegg said the Tories were failing to listen to 
warnings that the war on drugs had failed.

The Lib Dem MP and former party leader, who sits on the Global 
Commission on Drugs Policy, called for changes that would take the 
control of cannabis out of the hands of criminals, and ensure that 
users of harder drugs receive health treatment rather than jail sentences.

When Cameron first became an MP, he appeared open-minded about drug 
reform, but Clegg said he showed no interest in the issue when the 
pair worked together during the coalition government.

"If you are asking if I saw any evidence that David Cameron was 
prepared to grapple with this - none," said Clegg, claiming he came 
up against the same lack of interest from the chancellor.

"Part of the problem is that for some of them, when you say drugs to 
them, they think of Notting Hill dinner parties. They think it is all 
a slightly naughty recreational secret. They don't think of whole 
countries, like Colombia, that have been brought to their knees. They 
don't think of some very unscrupulous criminal gangs who are preying 
on people whom we should be protecting rather than chucking in jail."

A Conservative source described the intervention as a "desperate 
attempt by Nick Clegg to make himself relevant" after the Lib Dems' 
poor election results.

Clegg, who sits on the commission alongside the former UN secretary 
general Kofi Annan and the former presidents of Mexico, Colombia and 
Brazil, also hit out at the home secretary. Speaking before he 
travels to New York for a special session of the UN on new approaches 
to tackling the issue, Clegg described May as "spectacularly 
unimaginative" on the issue.

He claimed she and her aides tried to alter a 2014 study before 
publication because "they didn't like the conclusions". The Home 
Office report's finding that there was "no obvious relationship" 
between a zero-tolerance approach to drugs and levels of consumption 
triggered calls for a fresh debate on decriminalisation. It cited 
health improvements in Portugal since possession has been treated as 
a health issue rather than a criminal one.

Clegg said the original draft had been subject to an "endless wrangle 
between Lib Dem ministers and May about the fullness of what would be 
published", arguing there would be no change whatsoever as long as 
she led the Home Office.

A Home Office spokesperson said: "We have seen a reduction in drug 
misuse among adults and young people over the last 10 years and more 
people are recovering from their dependency now than in 2009-10. 
Decriminalising drugs would not eliminate the crime committed by 
their illicit trade, nor would it address the harms and destruction 
associated with drug dependence."

The spokesperson also rejected the idea that the report, known as the 
International Comparators Study, said there was no link between tough 
penalties and drug use: "It makes clear that approaches to drugs 
legislation and enforcement of drugs possession are only one element 
of a complex set of factors that affect drugs use, including 
prevention, treatment and wider social and cultural factors."

Clegg insisted he was not soft on crime: "I am a dad, I don't want my 
kids taking drugs; drugs are bad for people. I just think the war on 
drugs has been proven to be a stupid way of reducing harm." He said 
he shared the objectives of many people who wanted tough anti-drug laws.

"Alcohol is bad for you, drugs are bad, tobacco is bad. You don't 
reduce the harm by placing the whole industry into the hands of 
criminals," said Clegg. "Since when has industrial-scale criminality 
been the answer to a public health problem?"

He said he was not optimistic about this week's UN session driving a 
new international approach because of resistance from Russia and 
countries in Asia.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom