13 Oct Put That In Your Pipe, Mrs May. The Sunday Times 13th October 2013
By Isabel Oakeshott and Marie Woolf .
CANNABIS and some “club drugs” could be legalised in a Home Office shake-up of drugs policy proposed by Liberal Democrat ministers.
In a move that threatens a clash with Theresa May, the home secretary, the Lib Dem ministers want a dramatic relaxation of the law after concluding that the government is losing the war on illegal substances.
A review ordered by Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, and due to be published before Christmas, is expected to suggest Britain could benefit from emulating two American states where the use of recreational cannabis is legal.
The Home Office report is also expected to call for the introduction of heroin “shooting galleries” where hardcore addicts are given the drug on prescription in an attempt to reduce crime; and a new approach to club drugs.
However, the recommendations are expected to set off a bitter coalition row, with May resisting any significant changes. It sets the scene for a public showdown with Norman Baker, the newly appointed Lib Dem minister for drugs policy, who has said he is “open-minded” about reform.
Baker has been given the task of finishing an investigation into liberal approaches to drugs in other parts of the world, begun by Jeremy Browne, his predecessor in the Home Office. As part of the review, Browne travelled to Canada, Japan, South Korea, Portugal, Denmark, Sweden and America in search of “imaginative” solutions for illegal drugs. He also held a video conference with officials in New Zealand, where the government is experimenting with a radical approach to club drugs.
There, drug designers are being offered the opportunity to get official approval for their products. If they can demonstrate that their pills and powders are safe, they can receive a licence to market the substances, whether or not they have mind-altering effects. Drugs that are already banned internationally, including cocaine and cannabis, are excluded.
Browne, who was replaced by Baker in last week’s government reshuffle, is understood to have been impressed by the idea and was preparing to suggest that Britain monitors the results with a view to emulating some aspects of the scheme.
Baker, whose liberal views on drug policy are well established, is likely to be at least as bold as his predecessor.
A Whitehall source said: “Jeremy thought the new system in New Zealand was well worth watching. He was also struck by the remarkable experiments in Colorado and Washington state, where you can go into a shop and buy marijuana. Within a year or so, we’ll know if it leads to huge social and health problems, or if it’s the dog that did not bark.”
Baker’s report is also expected to suggest that primary responsibility for drug policy should be shifted from the Home Office to the Department of Health. The move would symbolise a new focus on drugs as a health, rather than a criminal, problem.
Before reaching his conclusions, Baker, or senior officials in his department, will also visit Morocco where the government is considering legalising hashish.
The appointment by Clegg of a minister with a record of calling for a change in drugs laws has infuriated May, who was not consulted. It is a sign of Clegg’s determination to rethink drugs policy.
A senior Lib Dem source said: “Nick thinks drugs policy isn’t working. People who have a drugs problem need to be helped, not criminalised. You need to stop people committing crimes to feed their habit.” Baker is also expected to look at evidence for decriminalising possession of small amounts of cannabis for personal use which is less controversial than wider legalisation. Every year, 80,000 people go to court for possession of cannabis, facing a criminal record that can blight their careers.
The looming row is likely to be an embarrassment for David Cameron, who in opposition faced repeated questions about his personal use of illegal substances before he became an MP. As a backbencher in 2002, Cameron voted for the home affairs committee to explore the decriminalisation of some drug use. Clegg has been open about his differences with Cameron on the issue.
Overall drug use in Britain is falling, though the number of people taking ketamine, ecstasy and methamphetamine is rising. A recent NHS report said there was no evidence that “club drugs” were replacing more dangerous drugs such as heroin, adding that only a small number of users required medical treatment after taking them.
Tories lure sacked Lib Dem
Jeremy Browne, the Lib Dem minister sacked in the reshuffle, is being secretly wooed by the Conservatives to try to persuade him to defect to the party, writes Marie Woolf.
The MP for Taunton, who is on the right wing of his party, was a shock casualty of the government reshuffle which saw him lose his job as Home Office minister.
He has since been approached by Grant Shapps, the Conservative party chairman, in a move that will infuriate the Tories’ coalition partners.
Browne, who is said to be mulling over the offer, was highly rated as a minister, and was expected to be promoted to a senior role in the foreign office where he formerly served.
Many Tories believe his political views would sit well with them. A senior Conservative source confirmed that an approach to Browne had been made.