Tuesday 4 February 2014 6:14 am

War on drugs is unwinnable says Clegg

Publisher Desk

Publisher Desk

Follow Jeff Misenti

Nick Clegg has declared the war on drugs unwinnable and that a fundamental rethink of current policy is needed.

Speaking on a visit to Colombia, the deputy prime minister said that the UK must end the conspiracy of silence surrounding the failure of prohibition, telling the BBC "If you are anti-drugs you should be pro-reform."

Mr Clegg said the war on drugs had caused "terrible conflict" in Colombia and that the Liberal Democrats would publish an alternative strategy for reform. The Lib Dems are conducting a study on the impact of decriminalisation in Uruguay and legalisation in some US states.

However, Mr Clegg backed away from a policy of decriminalisation of the use of drugs, saying he favoured a health-based approach to treating drug users.

Coalition tensions over the issue rose last year when Mr Clegg called for a Royal Commission on drugs, which was promptly rejected by the Prime Minister. In March, the home secretary Theresa May also rejected a call from MPs for a fundamental reform of drug policy. 

The deputy prime minister's comments will echo many medical professionals' who have concluded that the prohibition of drugs has been ineffective in achieving its desired effect.

Over the last twenty years the price of drugs has dramatically declined and purity has increased, despite greater levels of interdiction than at any point in history, according to a report released last year by the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy (ICSDP).

The ICSDP cites the price declines in Europe of 51 per cent for cocaine and 74 per cent for heroin between the years 1990 and 2010, as evidence of the abject failure of law enforcement officials to restrict the supply of drugs.

The authors of the report suggest that problems related to recreational drug use should be treated as a public health issue instead of a matter for the criminal justice system.

The report was published in the British Medical Journal Open and drew its evidence from seven international drug surveillance systems.

The report concluded:

These findings suggest that expanding efforts at controlling the global illegal drug market through law enforcement are failing.