10 February 2015
By Alan Travis, home affairs editor
Discussions will also form part of preparations for 2016 UN general assembly special session on global drug problem
A high-profile parliamentary conference is to be held next month to discuss alternatives to Britain’s failing drug laws and influence the international debate on drugs.
The provisional programme for the conference, to be hosted by the UK parliament’s Commons home affairs committee, includes officials from Mexico’s foreign ministry, legalisation campaigners such as Danny Kushlick, of Transform, and health experts such as Prof David Nutt.
The conference will also form part of preparations for the UN general assembly special session on the world drug problem, to be held in 2016.
Nick Clegg had been expected to speak at the conference but the Liberal Democrat Home Office minister, Lynne Featherstone, will attend instead.
The Lib Dem leader is, however, still expected to make a major speech on drug policy early next month to renew his party’s commitment to radical reform of Britain’s drug laws as the election campaign intensifies.
The conference, which is to be held in Cambridge on 12 March, follows a report from the home affairs select committee two years ago, which called for a royal commission to consider all the alternatives to the current drug laws and argued for a fundamental review of all UK drug policy.
It also follows the Commons vote backing a call from the Green MP, Caroline Lucas, for an impact assessment of current laws and of the cost-benefits of the alternatives.
The conference is also expected to build on the Home Office international study published last year by the Lib Dem minister Norman Baker, which showed there is no direct correlation between the severity of a country’s drug laws and levels of illicit drug use. The report triggered Baker’s resignation as a minister, after he criticised the Conservative home secretary, Theresa May, for holding back the findings for three months.
The conference programme includes a range of speakers, covering a global approach to drugs, health and social harms, and experts on the crime and policing aspects of the problem. They include Andy Bliss, a chief constable and the Association of Chief Police Officers’ national lead on drugs, and Tom Lloyd, the former Cambridgeshire chief constable, who has publicly said that 40 years of drug prohibition has failed.
They also include Neil McKeganey, of the Centre for Drug Misuse Research, who has called for tougher action against legal highs, Molly Meacher, chair of the all-party group for drug policy reform, and Mike Shiner, who co-authored a Release report on the policing of drug offences.
The stated aim of the conference is to “consider how the government could reduce the various types of harm that are done by the consumption of drugs to users, to the society in which they live, and at the global level”.
The organisers hope to provide an opportunity to influence the British government’s approach to the UN special assembly next year as well as developing ideas for domestic policy.
Julian Huppert, the Lib Dem MP for Cambridge and amember of the home affairs committee, said its last drug report recommended that there should be a national study on the future of drug policy and this had been endorsed by May.
He said that as part of the contribution to that debate it was important to hear from a range of speakers, including those who had been long-term campaigners for alternative approaches.