Nick Clegg calls for royal commission on drugs reform


Mr Clegg said the government needed to be "open-minded", as Mark Easton reports

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg is calling for a royal commission on drugs, just five days after the prime minister and the home secretary rejected the idea.

On Monday an all-party committee of MPs recommended there should be a fundamental review of Britain's drugs laws, but David Cameron said that was unnecessary.

Now Mr Clegg has said the worst thing people can do is close their mind to drug reforms.

Mr Clegg told the BBC he wanted to break what he called the "conspiracy of silence", where politicians while in government refuse to consider alternatives to the so-called war on drugs because it is "all too controversial".

US examples

By calling for a royal commission to be set up, the deputy prime minister is at complete odds with David Cameron who emphatically rejected the idea.

A royal commission is a public inquiry, established by the head of state, into a defined subject and overseen by a commissioner who has quasi-judicial powers.

"I don't see this as a thing between myself and the prime minister," Mr Clegg said. "It's what do we as a country believe is the right thing to do."

Start Quote

My view is that we've been waging the war on drugs for almost 40 years, and I don't think by any stretch of the imagination it has worked”

End Quote Nick Clegg Deputy Prime Minister

Asked if he was at risk of being soft on drugs, Mr Clegg said: "There's nothing hard about turning your back against the evidence."

He said he wanted the government to look at the system in Portugal where all drugs have been depenalised and also at the experience in the US states of Washington and Colorado where marijuana was recently legalised.

"If you are anti-drugs, you should be pro-reform. That is my view," he said.

At their party conference last year, the Liberal Democrats voted to establish a panel to consider decriminalising the use of all drugs. Reform of drug laws is an issue that has long been pursued by some in the party.

However, Mr Clegg has now set himself at odds with his Conservative coalition partners. He told the prime minister of his intention to support a royal commission, in defiance of Mr Cameron's publicly stated position, at a meeting in Downing Street.

"Both the prime minister and I are relaxed about the idea that this isn't an identikit government," Mr Clegg said.


"The home secretary and indeed the prime minister are perfectly entitled to say that they want the government's present approach to be given a chance to work and don't want the distraction of a royal commission.

"My view is that we've been waging the war on drugs for almost 40 years, and I don't think by any stretch of the imagination it has worked."

The Home Office and Downing Street both say there is no need to review Britain's drug laws, pointing out that drug use is falling while numbers in treatment are rising.

However, Mr Clegg has said the drugs minister at the Home Office, Liberal Democrat Jeremy Browne, will be sent on a fact-finding mission to look at the experience in countries experimenting with decriminalisation and legalisation.

Mark Easton Article written by Mark Easton Mark Easton Home editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    #37 I totally agree. #38 Tchernobog - firstly you contradicted yourself in your first post. Secondly, what a conservative will or will not do is irrelevant. This issue needs momentum and a proper review - even if it doesn't 'work' this time - increases the chances of a common-sense approach in future Government. Stupid question at the end there. Of course they wouldn't, but who is proposing that?

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    Since when has any government listened to expert advice?
    Exactly,never.They should,but never do.Didnt you know?They are experts in everything.I would still have a joint over a pint anytime...

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    Legalise at societys peril!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    So the reality is that some people like to smoke weed not drink wine of an evening. Below is a list of all the professions of people i personally know that smoke weed.
    Engineer, Electrician, Bank Manager, Carpenter,Accountant,Carer,Maths Teacher,Taxi Driver,Chef, Bar Man,Supermarket worker and the list goes on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Arguments about regulation have nothing to do with the moral signal that decriminalization will send to young people. This is the conservative position, whether you agree with it or not. There is a good case that increased drug addiction is symptomatic of the moral malaise of society, but no-one wants to hear it. Do you really think a decent working class family wants drug addled kids?

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    30. Tchernobog

    There's nothing morally worthy about declaring something as immoral and then doing absolutely nothing to alter the situation. No morality in intransigence or ignorance. No righteousness in turning a blind eye because it may threaten you election prospects. Quite the opposite in fact.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    I'm confused, people moan about drug users in society - they should get a job etc. But the top-rated HYS quote is going to the pro drug related, I suspect.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    How many reports with the same outcome, scientific advisors quitting and successful approaches elsewhere in the world does it take before our 1 man decision making government listens. We do not criminalise alcohol, nicotine or prescription drug dependence so why other drugs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Arguing the toss with everything now mr.clegg will not give you back the credibility or trust that you have lost in such a spectacular fashion.

    You are a useless pathetic waste of our time and money and you will not pull the wool over our eyes ever again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    Sorry Chris the words in the US are 'legalised for recreational use'. It's not stating that we'll let you off or 'treat' you, it's saying off you go it's allowed. That's a very different, and in my eyes correct, way of thinking. You're right in that all the others are policies of decriminalisation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    The link between cannabis and schizophrenia is not an argument against legalisation - it's an argument FOR it. The link has become stronger as strains of the drug have become stronger. If you control what is sold, you reverse that trend. Ben Elton produced a decent, satirical look at this topic (in a broader sense) in his book High Society - worth a read.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    I think this is a good idea, The war has against drugs has been going on for far too many years, thousands of people die every year due to the drug trade in lots of countries, people will take drugs whether they are legal or not, They say that drug use is down, how do they even know who used drugs I have never been asked have you?, Ask the people of UK what they want!! Get real and legalise!!! now

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    You're wrong. Decriminalizing drug abuse is a concomitant of the permissive revolution and represents a further step in the liberalization of society and the promotion of moral relativism. A true conservative could never support a relaxation of the law - because libertarianism undermines every moral decency and tradition. Although I believe Cameron is a liberal, he is right on this matter.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    It's not so much Clegg, or any other MP, being at odds with the Cameron, rather it's Cameron yet again ignoring reports that were either commissioned by himself or others.

    We vote into Parliament individual MPs to represent our communities. When a small clique of MPs at the top table start to routinely ignore the recommendations at hand it is time to start ignoring them in return.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Most governments have learned nothing from America`s prohibition era.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Classic example of why 'The State' is so expensive, yet so ineffectual.

    Our Politics is not technocratic. Thus this sort of commission immediately becomes 'noise' which each side will claim supports their existing views. It is an opportunity for confirmation bias, not informed decision making.

    Commissions / enquiries are simply mechanisms for politicians to test possible manifesto pledges.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    I think this is mostly a red herring...our government has no control over the illegal drugs market, nevermind the police. While the MPs fumble about everyone who wants drugs will be able to get them as before. This commission will also be a red herring as i would bet my house that whatever it comes up with will be shot down by govt if it recommends anything other than the status quo.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    Cameron must really be starting to get worried: yet again, Clegg is showing dangerous signs of independent thought!

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Just to get the facts on the table, there is not one country in the world where "recreation" drugs are legal.

    Countries and some states in the USA have reduced the crime/penalty on certain drugs, ignoring small offences and allowing use of drugs like cannabis, but it is still an offence and the penalty in Portugal is accepting therapy or a sentence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    It's pointless bleating about Clegg if he happens to have a good idea - like this. He's only pushing for a review, rather than turning a blind eye (as Cameron and so many other Governments before have done). Leaders seem to struggle to make tough decisions if they're controversial (this + cutting taxes to boost the economy are 2 good examples). The war is being lost; sell it, control it, tax it


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