Pubdate: Sun, 08 May 2016
Source: Observer, The (UK)
Copyright: 2016 Guardian News and Media Limited
Author: Jamie Doward


Lib Dem's Norman Lamb Urges MPs to Pass the Bill to Create a 
Regulated Market for the Drug

Parliament will be failing in its duty to reflect the will of the 
people if it continues to resist calls to introduce a regulated 
cannabis market, a former coalition minister has warned.

A 10-minute rule bill proposing the introduction of a legal cannabis 
market in the UK, something that would constitute the biggest shakeup 
of the drugs laws in the past half-century, will end its passage 
through the Commons on Friday. It was tabled by Norman Lamb, the 
Liberal Democrats' health spokesman, and supported by MPs from all 
parties, as well as experts including a serving chief constable.

Despite failing in his attempt to steer a similar bill through 
parliament when he was a coalition health minister, Lamb said it had 
achieved its aim, by helping frame the debate around the UK's drugs 
laws. "Change will happen, it's just inevitable," Lamb told the 
Observer. "We will come back in years to come and see this was the 
start of the change."

He drew comparisons with public support for an overhaul of the 
euthanasia laws. "This is an issue like assisted dying, where 
parliament is a long way behind the public. In an age when there is a 
lot of anger out there and a great sense that the establishment is 
remote from how people feel, these are two great liberal issues where 
there is growing public opinion in favour of change. I think it 
reinforces the view that parliament is unrepresentative of so many 
people in our country."

Lamb's bill, co-sponsored by Lib Dems including Tim Farron and Nick 
Clegg, Green MP Caroline Lucas, Labour's Paul Flynn and Conservatives 
Michael Fabricant, Crispin Blunt and Peter Lilley, was shaped by a 
report from an independent panel of experts. These included Mike 
Barton, chief constable of Durham police, the retired chief constable 
of Cambridgeshire, Tom Lloyd, and Professor David Nutt, former chair 
of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.

Under its proposals, cannabis producers would be licensed and their 
products sold in plain packaging. There would be mandatory provision 
of health advice to consumers at the point of sale and controls on 
the drug's potency. It is estimated that a regulated market could 
raise up to UKP1bn a year in tax.

"There are some people who say because we are uncertain we shouldn't 
act," Lamb said. "I say because we are uncertain we should act. 
People start with a fear of substances that can cause harm. The 
instinctive reaction is to ban it until you see all the unintended 
consequences of that  like prohibition of alcohol in the US."

Further calls for reform will come next week when Barton, Kenny 
MacAskill, the former Scottish justice secretary, and Baroness 
Meacher, chair of the all-party parliamentary group on drug policy 
reform, will be among the politicians and experts who will attend a 
conference hosted by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies (CCJS) 
which will hear from Joao Goulao, one of the architects of Portugal's 
healthled approach to drugs policy.

"More and more people recognise that the UK's drug control regime has 
been a public health disaster that has unnecessarily criminalised 
countless people," said Richard Garside, director of the CCJS. 
"Regardless of the fortunes of the cannabis bill, there is a growing 
sense that drug-taking needs to be treated as a health and education, 
not criminal justice, challenge."
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