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 242.

    "So many people advocating breaking the law." Advocating changing the law - there is a huge difference.

  • rate this

    Comment number 241.

    Also i think you will find that the war on drugs has done more to harm children than the users or drugs themselves, parents criminalised, unable to get decent jobs and lets not forget the cost, it is billions, that money could have been used to build schools, play areas, specialised equipment for hospitals and i say again education, the most important tool we can give kids for life.

    War is

  • rate this

    Comment number 240.

    Sad to see the same old rubbish being spouted instead of having a serious debate. The "War on Drugs" hasn't worked. In 1950's you could buy herion openly in a chemist - there were less than 400 addicts. Today we have close to 400,000 addicts - how can anyone argue currently strategy is working?

    Debate lost in a desire to have a dig at Nick Clegg. Please let's talk sensibly about this!

  • rate this

    Comment number 239.

    good on ya clegg at least not all of our government is living the 60's. theirs more drugs then ever in my opinion i see it and smell it everywhere. kids nowadays dont even care about police where i live they jsut walk around smoking it exactly whats the difference if its legilised?!? oh yeah the government would save/make tons of cash

  • rate this

    Comment number 238.

    Funny my last comments gets lots of negative votes.
    So many people advocating breaking the law.

    Says a lot about society I guess.

  • rate this

    Comment number 237.

    People who use hard drugs don't need punishment, they need help. As for cannabis's less harmful than alcohol/tobacco and the only reason it's considered a "gateway drug" is because in the UK you have to buy it of the same guy who sells coke/crack/whatever and would make a lot more money off you if you were hooked on something expensive.

  • rate this

    Comment number 236.

    Regarding cannabis, what is clear is that whatever "Government" and it's cronies think and whatever redundant policies they have had in the past, the youth and many of the middle aged of the United Kingdom have already voted on this issue. What remains to be sorted is who is going to get the profits.
    The State or the Dealers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 235.

    yes Clegg, finally someone who realises that the "war on drugs" actually does so much more damage to vulnerable people though mis-information and education by omission of facts, than a much more sensible medical approach
    Cameron hasn't got a leg to stand on, he outright admitted he hadn't read the bill before he dismissed it. How can you dismiss a reform without even reading it in the first place

  • rate this

    Comment number 234.

    The harm they inflict on our society and the strain they place on our health service are going to exist regardless of their legality. 40 years of the war on drugs has failed and countries that have legalised drugs like marijuana have not had an increase in use. It's better to use the money to subsidise the health service, than have the drug money flowing into organised gangs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 233.

    I think there are alot of hypocrites commenting here, you do not want to see the regulation of drugs but your quite happy to allow alcohol and tobacco to be sold legally, get over yourselves please, your views are instituional and archaic just like the current drugs policy in this country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 232.

    Well done Clegg. Some sense coming from Government for once.

  • rate this

    Comment number 231.

    The government decisions are against the advice of many professionals. Good to hear Clegg speaking out against poor judgement.

  • rate this

    Comment number 230.

    Taking the matter out of the hands of criminals has merit and yes we could do with the tax revenue so a Royal Commission may make sense but we cannot start on the basis the cannabis use is somehow 'clean'. It isn't and its use must be limited via tax far in excess of any levied on tobacco which unlike grass or booze does not markedly alter the human state of mind.

  • rate this

    Comment number 229.

    #geoff cannabis is not addictive. At the end of the day alcholol ruins lives, causes deaths & has brought a binge drinking culture, in 50 years half the country will need new livers. Educating people is the key people are going to do it illegal or not so make it safe & don't tarnish innocent recreational drugs users as criminals. Addiction's an illness not a crime.

  • rate this

    Comment number 228.

    The cost of Alcohol to the NHS is 10x the entire 'drug problem' combined.

    As comment 213 says: "For Addicts of harder drugs, if we can't get them off them we need to make them safe".

    That's what pubs are for.

  • rate this

    Comment number 227.

    Semantically, I object to 'war on drugs' as much as 'war on poverty,' 'war on cancer,' war on terror':all terms invented by USPresidencies.But attacking semantics is futile.People still dying of cancer,yet progress made.Latest WHO report shows progress on poverty &malnutrition,too. So can't claim efforts fruitless!Ditto with drugs.Enabling more distribution & penalty-free indulgence not theAnswer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 226.


    You drive? Have you ever gone above 70 on the motorway?

    That's illegal and puts not just your life in danger but others too. Tougher penalties?

    I'm sure we'd all be much happier if we made anything bad for us or in the slightest bit dangerous illegal with strict penalties. However, if laws were made genuinely by danger and risk, you might be disappointed where drugs netted out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 225.

    Reasons for a review:1.Inspirational music 2. Inspired books 3. Advances in science. Examples: Pink Floyd. The Beatles. Aldous Huxley ( 'The Doors of Perception') Kary Mullis. (DNA research pioneer and Nobel Prize Winner who stated that his drug use helped him to see differently in his ground breaking research). Steve Jobs' early experiences may also be enlightening,also medical use of some drugs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 224.

    One thing I admire Clegg for, on a personal level, is that he speaks more than 5 languages including Dutch and Spanish. Makes more sense for him to go a fact finding mission to countries such as Holland and Columbia rather than Browne.

  • rate this

    Comment number 223.

    We have already had a drugs commission that resigned en masse because politicians simply ignored their findings. This country is in a ridiculous position where more than half the electorate has used illegal substances and almost everyone continues to use substances that are legal but at least as harmful. Time for some honest assessment... but I doubt we'll get it.


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