The Mail on Sunday yesterday reported that the Home Affairs Select Committee report into drugs policy, reporting this morning is going to recommend that the option of legalisation should be seriously considered and a Royal Commission should be set up to report on the issue prior to the 2015 general election.
As readers of this blog will know I am a long standing supporter of liberalisation of our drug laws. So this report is a breath of fresh air as far as I am concerned. A sensible pragmatic look at the problems with current policy and an attempt to suggest steps that could help.
Right on cue, the government has already given its initial response and completely unsurprisingly they are making it clear they do not intend to do what the report suggests, before it has even been published. A government spokesperson said:
"Drugs are illegal because they are harmful - they destroy lives and blight communities. Our current laws draw on the best available evidence and as such we have no intention of downgrading or declassifying cannabis. A Royal Commission on drugs is simply not necessary. Our cross-government approach is working."
This is the same line that is trotted out by current ministers every time anybody: former ministers, senior business leaders, scientific advisers etc. try to advance this debate beyond the heavily constricted terms imposed by the government of the day. No matter what evidence is put in front of them they respond instantly to shut down further discussion.
However, this time we know that there is someone very senior in government who does not agree with this knee-jerk dismissal response. It is the second most senior minister of them all, the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. We know this because back in September I interviewed him and one of the questions I asked him was on drugs policy. You can read the full interview here but the salient part of it is below:
"...there are an increasing number of bodies who are revisiting this debate in the round. So for instance the Home Affairs Select Committee has been looking at this now for a long time and I think is due to report in December. I will be reading that very, very closely indeed. If a cross-party select committee revisits some of these issues and urges us to open them up as a government, I think the onus is on us, not them to explain why we shouldn’t. Because every time people look at this issue on a cross-party basis in a considered fashion, it seems to me over several years now including in the committee that David Cameron once sat, actually the advice is for radical action towards a more evidence based approach. I will look out for what the HASC has with quite an open mind."
The onus is now on Nick Clegg to make the case for a liberal approach to drugs policy. It was clear from the interview that he is very open to discussion about alternative approaches. This report now gives him the political space to do this. It's not a loony fringe view from some political outsiders but a clear call for a sensible approach from a committee consisting of MPs from all parties who have taken the time to look at the evidence and speak to a broad cross-section of witnesses on this subject.
Mr Clegg also told me that he hadn't discussed this particular issue with the Prime Minister. I very much hope that will change today and he will make clear that the HASC report has the full backing of him and his party.
This piece has been cross-posted today on Liberal Democrat Voice.