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UK Party May Back Decriminalized Drugs

Britain's Liberal Democrats expected to rally around drug decriminalization.

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By Will Godfrey

08/08/11

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The Liberal Democrats, Britain's third-largest political party, are gearing up to debate the decriminalization of all drugs at their convention next month. And most observers believe that they are likely to back the proposal. If so, they would be the first major UK party to advocate looser drug laws, an idea that has been gaining popularity in the country. Part of the motion to be debated reads: "Individuals, especially young people, can be damaged both by the imposition of criminal records and by a drug habit. The priority for those addicted to all substances must be healthcare, education and rehabilitation, not punishment." The motion also cites the success of Dutch and Swiss heroin maintenance programs, and proposes the kind of decriminalization that seems to have benefited Portugal. The party's leadership stresses its willingness to be led by science on this issue—the previous Labour government famously fired its chief drugs adviser, Professor David Nutt, in 2009 after he criticized cannabis policy, saying that evidence about the effects of pot was being distorted for political reasons. The Lib Dems won 23% of the vote in the 2010 general election and are now the junior partner to the Conservative Party—staunch opponents of decriminalization—in an uneasy ruling coalition. They hope this move will win back younger supporters who were alienated by the party's surprising decision to join the Conservative-led government. "This is not a proposal from a lunatic fringe," said a party source. "It is a recognition of the general failure of drugs policies both in Britain and across the world."

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