By Patrick Hennessy, Political Editor
24 April 2010
Nick Clegg is facing questions about his stance on drugs after it emerged that he backed legalising them when he was a member of the European Parliament.
Clegg and his allies also called for heroin to be made available under medical supervision.
The Liberal Democrat leader was one of a group of 109 MEPs who added their names to a proposal for “decriminalising the use of certain substances” and “partially decriminalising the sale of cannabis”.
Mr Clegg and his allies also called for heroin to be made available under medical supervision. They said they wanted to revise international conventions with the intention to “legalise the use of drugs for purposes other than medical or scientific ones” – suggesting they supported the recreational use of banned substances.
The proposal, put forward in Brussels in 2002, called on EU member states to control and regulate the production, sale and use of “currently illegal substances”. It condemned “repressive” laws cracking down on drugs and said anti-drugs legislation harmed “freedom and civil liberties”.
Mr Clegg was a euro MP from 1999 to 2004, before becoming an MP at Westminster in 2005. In 2006 he was made the Lib Dems’ home affairs spokesman – with responsibility for drugs policy – and was elected leader the following year.
His formal backing for legalising drugs in 2002 appears to clash with the Lib Dems’ current policy – which is to make the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs “completely independent of government” and always abide by its decisions.
If the council’s advice had been followed by ministers over the last few years, cannabis would be a class C drug instead of its current “harder” status as a Class B substance – but it would remain illegal.
A Lib Dem spokesman, asked about Mr Clegg’s support for the 2002 proposal, said: “The Liberal Democrats will always base drugs policy on the independent scientific advice of experts.”
The 2002 motion, known in European Parliament jargon as a “proposal for a recommendation”, condemned international anti-drugs policies, deriving from a series of United Nations Conventions, as a “failure” and condemned “the introduction into national legislation of laws that restrict individual freedom and civil liberties.”
Instead it backed “decriminalising the use of certain substances, partly decriminalising the sale of cannabis and its derivatives and making heroin available under medical supervision”.
EU governments were urged to “establish a system of legal control and regulation of the production, sale and use of currently illegal substances”.
Member states were also called on to review UN drugs policies “with the aim of repealing or amending the 1961 and 1971 Conventions with a view to reclassifying substances and legalise the use of drugs for purposes other than medical or scientific ones, and to repealing the 1988 Convention.”
The Lib Dem leader, whose party’s standing in opinion polls has risen dramatically following his performance in the first televised leaders’ election debate earlier this month, has always declined to comment when asked about any personal use of drugs. He has said he agrees with David Cameron that politicians are allowed a “past private life.”
In September 2007, just as the Home Office was reviewing the decision to downgrade cannabis to class C (it was later upgraded again to class B) he said: “The present debate on classification of drugs is nonsense, with politicians second guessing science and evidence.
“We need a total overhaul of the system so that classifications are based on facts rather than the prevailing mood of tabloid newspapers or home secretaries.”
The following month, as a leadership contender, he called for legal drugs, including alcohol, to be included in any new classification system. He said: ” If you’re interested in reducing harm, you need to revisit the spectrum of drugs, both legal and illegal and categorise them according to the evidence.
“A lot of the experts will tell you that alcohol abuse is as destructive to family and community cohesion as some illegal drugs.” There could be a new category “for drugs which are legal but have certain warnings attached to them”, he suggested.
The Brussels proposal was signed by only eight of Britain’s then-total of 87 MEPs, including Mr Clegg and three further members of the UK’s Lib Dem group. Among them was Chris Davies, a leading campaigner for drug decriminalisation.
At a fringe meeting at the party’s annual conference in Brighton in 2006 Mr Davies, calling on the Lib Dem leadership to consider legalising all drugs, said the issue should be “looked at again”. Mr Davies said at the time of Mr Clegg, then the Lib Dem home affairs spokesman: “I know from brief talks with him that he is mindful to do so, but I know he is mindful of giving ammunition to the opposition.”
Last year Professor David Nutt, head of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, was sacked by Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, after criticising the decision to reclassify cannabis to Class B from C.
Prof Nutt accused ministers of devaluing and distorting evidence and said drugs classification was being politicised – and other members of the council resigned in protest.Republish