Norman Lamb MP: I want to start an open & mature discussion about the UK’s drugs laws

Posted On: 
23rd March 2016

Former Health Minister Norman Lamb writes ahead of his Ten Minute Rule Motion today on Cannabis legalisation and writes that 'as a society we must be prepared to admit when our current laws just aren’t working'.

Norman Lamb is calling for 'an open and mature discussion about the UK’s drugs laws'

This month, an independent expert panel of police officers, public health experts and drug policy analysts published a ground-breaking report setting out how a regulated market for the production and sale of cannabis would work in the UK.  I am hostile to drug abuse and fully accept that cannabis, like any drug, can pose harms to individuals who use them. However, as a society we must be prepared to admit when our current laws just aren’t working.

Drug use has to be treated as a public health rather than a criminal justice issue. Outright prohibition of cannabis has proved to be harmful and counter-productive. That’s why I am presenting a bill to Parliament which would reverse the destructive consequences of our current approach by introducing a fully legal, regulated cannabis market which would be safer for users and safer for society.

I’ve argued for a long time that our laws on drugs are outdated, harmful and well overdue for reform.  My biggest concern is the risk that prohibition poses to public health. No criminal is interested in your welfare, and no drug is made less harmful when bought from organised crime networks. In the majority of cases, people have no idea of the strength or safety of what they’re buying.

Enforcing the so-called ‘war on drugs’ diverts valuable resources and police time which could be better used tackling far more harmful crimes than people carrying small amounts of cannabis for personal use.  Billions of pounds go straight into the pockets of criminal gangs. And thousands of people each year receive convictions for drug possession which will blight their employment prospects for the rest of their lives. It’s a sad waste of their lives and an enormous waste to society.

The Liberal Democrats have a proud history of advocating a liberal, progressive, and evidence-based approach to drugs policy. During the Coalition Government, Norman Baker fought for the release of a suppressed Home Office report comparing drug policies in different countries. It found that there is no obvious correlation between the ‘toughness’ of a country’s drug laws and levels of drug use.

Decriminalisation in Portugal has not led to any significant increase in drug use. On the contrary, the evidence points to improved health prospects for users, fewer deaths and fewer drug-related offenders in prison. In Sweden, where criminal sanctions are even tougher than the UK, levels of drug use were not markedly lower than countries with less stringent policies.

It’s time for a smarter approach. The model proposed by the expert panel would allow the sale of cannabis to over 18s by trained and licensed vendors, with a new regulator to oversee the market. Regulating cannabis would make it safer for users by controlling the strength and quality of the products. It would be sold in plain packaging with clear health and risk reduction information drawing on best practice in tobacco and alcohol regulation.

Public health is at the heart of this new model, while taking the trade away from criminals and raising tax revenues that could be re-invested in more effective prevention and treatment programmes.

I’m proud that the Liberal Democrats have taken a principled stand and led the way by accepting the expert panel’s recommendations to become the first major political party to support the legalisation and regulation of cannabis. By bringing this bill to Parliament, I hope to kick-start an open and mature discussion about the UK’s drugs laws which is long overdue.

Norman Lamb is the Lib Dem Health spokesperson and the MP for North Norfolk